I am the same age as Mother Grencher (mother-in-law, actually—well, the narrator’s mother in the law to be precise) in Jerome’s story For Esme, with Love and Squalor, sixty--sixty-one and truth be told on my way to sixty-two, but to be honest, whereever I happen to be I think of Jerome and even when I am not thinking of Jerome I am thinking of Jerome because I really want to know: where the hell was he? Ninety-something and how dare he disappear like that when I wanted to know more?
I never, regrettably, made notes about who I was or how I felt when I first read Catcher in the Rye, because most certainly I could have used them in this story. Ain’t it a shame? I didn’t know I would be writing a piece about Salinger, but there you are. Last summer I pulled Jerome out again from my shelf and re-read them all, still feeling the same feelings I felt as when I first read them, which is unusual because usually one grows older and wiser and great literature evokes something even deeper. But nothing could get deeper than Salinger--he was already there for all of us on multiple levels right from the start.
Speaking of "deeper"--for instance, in my world, no one under fifty can possibly really understand Anna Karenina. This was proven to me recently when, in a graduate literature class, the reaction from young, budding little ass-kissing TA’s in their late twenties and early thirties was enough to make me lose hope for our future and quite honestly the literary world in general. One young woman, who fancied herself clever and cynical and quite clearly in love with the professor, whined repeatedly about how she simply could not understand why Anna threw herself under the train and what did she see in Vronsky anyway? It was then I wished that Jerome had been there to set her straight. He would have given her a moral compass to live by, something non-religious and spiritual, something that, as things go, is so out of fashion now, but can it be helped? Jerome wrote in a time when politically correct as a phrase had not been invented and there was still cynicism and hope as a dialectic. Now everything is part of that sliding gray area where jaded mentality, sarcasm and a sneering contempt for idealism vie for dominance. Everyone in this era is a chimp presenting an anus to another Alpha with more money and access to more trees to swing from. Have we survived or merely lived on too long?
Perhaps we have, but J.D. did not.
I highly doubt that Jerome lived too long. We just wish he’d given us a piece of his ass in public and I thank God he knew better than to give into that temptation. Whatever writing he did in the 50 years since he escaped to New Hampshire from the glaring eyes of a greedy, hungry, voracious public that loves to chew up celebrities and spit them out onto the fire of condemnation, we may or may not have the great pleasure to see, read and know. The four books he left in his slim but explosive canon will have to suffice for a while, I fear, but what a canon it is! Nothing will ever be the same since Holden Caulfield called out to phonies or Zooey told Frannie that the Fat Lady is Jesus--is all of us. .The notion that we are The fat Lady That sings--well, to say this makes me sing is an understatement!
Nothing will ever be quite put together after Seymour Glass offed himself in the hotel room on his honeymoon. I will never be the same since I fell in love with the Glass family. The Glasses are part of our American Heritage and this will not be denied.
Every year I re-read my Salinger, if nothing else than to remind myself what greatness really is, even though it is excruciating to realize I will never achieve the cleanness, clarity or intense spiritual awareness of Salinger. The narrative voices, sure, humorous, sardonic, deep, mysterious and painful in the best possible way, remind us that genius is really rare and we ought to be thankful we had him here at all. Yes, he stayed alive much, much longer than his last work—fifty some odd years—yet we hardly knew him really, which is exactly how he wanted to be. He did his life on his own terms, and for that, the mystery remains.
"There are no writers anymore,” he said once. “Only book-selling louts and big mouths.”
Thank you Jerome. You are so, so right!