Archive for September 2013

Salinger, Chapter Seven: Victim and Perpetrator

Let’s focus on the positives this one time because even I get tired of being a jerk.

Chapter Seven marks the end of the World War II history lesson, and coincidentally, there are some important items here, highlighted by the work of Eberhard Alsen, a man hired by Salerno to research Salinger’s life in Europe and who has written several literary criticisms on Salinger’s work.

I like Alsen because of his authorial tone, a vulnerability that can be present only when a writer has given himself over to accepting he’s done the best that he could. Here he is talking about visiting the psychiatric facility where Salinger received treatment after the war

It was extraordinary to visit the hospital where Salinger was treated for two weeks for his nervous breakdown, particularly since the layout of the place hasn’t changed very much. For instance, a couple of the windows had steel bars over them. (170)

Nothing earth-shattering, but I feel closer to him, and I trust him, even if he’s done nothing more than stand in the spot where Salinger was treated. Alsen then connects it to a letter Salinger wrote to Hemingway in 1945

The letter is not dated, but Salinger’s reference to the 4th Division having already returned to the United States shows that it must have been written after June 25, 1945. This means that Salinger’s nervous breakdown occurred probably just weeks after the end of the war. (170)

Alsen stands in the place where Salinger resided for a time and recalls the letter he wrote in that spot. I’m fine with this. It’s about the process of research, a deducing based on factual evidence. Words and phrases such as “must have been” and “probably” aren’t an issue for me here because Alsen has established that he’s done the work. He’s reliable.

Shane Salerno, the director, producer, and financial sponsor of the documentary Salinger, shows a similar reliability

It took significant effort to obtain Salinger’s military records; for several years we were told they had been destroyed in a fire and then in a flood. (172)

Then Salerno produces a letter of recommendation and commendation about Salinger by a First Lieutenant. I like reading about someone’s struggles to overcome research obstacles, only to win a small victory as a result of his persistence. I respect the humility before the triumph. If the entire book were written this way, I would have readily accepted all of its shortcomings and failures.

But there’s too much inflated, ridiculous prose like this entry from Alex Kershaw, who writes about Salinger as Counter Intelligence Agent

Salinger got to be detective. A detective in uniform. His basic job was to chase down the bad guys, whether they be Nazis that were pretending to be civilians, collaborators, or black-market operators. He actually got to look into the dark heart of Nazi Germany and interrogate the people who committed the greatest crimes in human history. And bring them to justice. (175)

They got the wrong guy for this project in Kershaw because he’s not a writer; he’s a dramatist. We don’t need sentence fragments to provide the emotion in this testimony. We don’t need anything to supplement the drama that exists in the natural state of war. Kershaw uses “got to be…” like Salinger was a kid playing army in the woods behind his house. That’s not how it was at all.

Despite this, I’m going to continue to search for the positive in this book. It doesn’t help, though, that¬†Salinger¬†arrived in Chicago on Friday, September 20, only to disappear from theaters without a trace less than a week later.