"I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me." -- Numbers 11:14 (NKJV)
This biography will be of most value to those who have read little of Salinger's work and know even less about his life. Why? J.D. Salinger undertook to reduce his public profile in much the same way that a triple agent working for both sides in a war would try to keep the full scope of his or her duplicity secret.
As a result, Mr. Slawenski didn't have much to work with. Salinger's writing is appropriately the most eloquent expressions of his life and work. Comments by critics and fans are magnified from such a perspective. What remains of correspondence with editors and publishers is also made larger than life. Occasional run-ins with journalists also shine more than their significance.
But J.D. Salinger wasn't always J.D. Salinger. He was a more ordinary person growing up, and this biography provides helpful perspectives on the possible effects of some of his formative influences. I was particularly struck by the careful descriptions of the difficult battle and postwar conditions that Salinger must have experienced in Europe that left him feeling the need to convey what cannot be understood except by experience in his stories.
As a biographer, Mr. Slawenski brings some heavy baggage with him. First, he's so much a fan that many times the writing fails to capture the flaws in Salinger's character and attitudes. Second, for my taste he brings more literary analysis to Salinger's work than his personal skills warrant. Third, many of the descriptions of Salinger's spiritual perspectives are superficial to the extreme, failing to even comment on obvious points (such as how Salinger reconciled his Jewish heritage, his attraction to Zen practices, and frequent written references to Jesus Christ). Fourth, much of the writing is repetitious, a failing that's more obvious for someone who is writing about someone who expressed himself sparely.
All in all, I enjoyed the book. Although I have read all of Salinger's published work, I haven't done so in a long time. It was a pleasure to be immersed in the stories and novels again.
In fact, I was inspired to check out all the stories and books I could find in the library and start rereading them. In some cases, I haven't read the material in over 50 years so it was quite interesting to see how my reactions had changed. I encourage you to do the same, unless you have read Salinger in the last five years.
Thank you for your hard work, Mr. Slawenski.