Terrific Liars: An Analysis of Fredrik Colting’s 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye as it Relates to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye
Photo from ABE Books website

Written by Elizabeth Downing Johnson – December 2009

J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher In The Rye has attracted a lot of attention in its 58 years of literary life.  Published in 1951, the novel received mixed critical reviews, garnering praise from The New Yorker, The Book-of-the-Month Club, Atlantic, Time, and Saturday Review (to name a few), but receiving criticism from publications like The New Republic, The Nation, New York Herald Tribune, Catholic World, and The Christian Science Monitor.  A decade later, schools and libraries would ban The Catcher in the Rye, stating that the language was inappropriate and that the themes were blasphemous and immoral.  Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, testified that he was sure that “the large part of me is Holden Caulfield,” (Jones, 1), and John Hinckley Jr,’s attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life, as well as Robert John Bardo’s murder of a young television star, are also associated with the novel.

Obviously, not all press is good press, and despite Salinger’s notorious reclusive behavior, readers of The Catcher in the Rye can be sure that Salinger’s intention was not to encourage psychotic behavior.  Along with this assumption, one could also assume that Salinger’s intention was not to spawn a published “Unauthorized Fictional Examination of the Relationship Between J.D. Salinger and his Most Famous Character,” which is the claim printed on the back cover of a book titled 60 Years Later:  Coming Through the Rye.  This book, written by one Fredrik Colting (pen name J.D. California) was the topic of many news stories in the summer of 2009.  In fact, Salinger’s legal representation put a stop to the book’s American publication, stating that the book was a “rip off, pure and simple”  (Staff, Concord Monitor).  Since the book is still (as of December, 2009) unpublishable in the United States, so far no examination has been made to discern whether the book actually “works” as a sequel or as a “fictional examination” of Salinger and his relationship with Holden Caulfield.  In order to do this, one would have to read 60 Years Later and compare it to the themes and style of The Catcher in the Rye.  Luckily, (or unluckily), I have done so, and will attempt herein to give an objective analysis of the book and its relationship to Salinger’s masterpiece.  Despite any attempt at objectivity, the textual and thematic analysis will prove that Colting’s attempt falls short of its goal.

In any comparative analysis, the best place to start is the text itself.  Themes are debatable, but the text itself does not lie.  This will be the first step in our journey, only after an introduction to 60 Years Later:  Coming Through The Rye for those who have not had the chance (or the inclination) to buy it from another country.  The plot of the novel follows an elderly Mr. C., who wakes up in a nursing home thinking that he is still the young Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.  He is confused and thinks that his brother D.B. has been there the week before (while we find out later in the novel that D.B. died some time ago from a drug overdose), and he is shocked when he looks in the mirror and sees an old man looking back at him.  The narrative is interrupted intermittently by italicized text that is supposed to be Salinger himself pondering over the fact that Holden seems to have had a whole life in the years since Salinger wrote his original story.  The second chapter consists of only two sentences, “I’m bringing him back.  After all these years I’ve finally decided to bring him back” (Colting, 9).  The first four chapters are a slightly hallucinogenic account of Mr. C.’s description of his surroundings and his realization that he is now an old man.  The end of the forth chapter ends with another section of what is supposed to be Salinger’s internal narrative, wherein he decides that

The most important rule, the one you cannot break or go around, is that everyone here needs to have a past.  It’s really true everywhere but especially so here.  If you don’t have a past you don’t exist.  So I have to give him something to hold on to;  I need to give him a life.  Right now he’s confused, the poor boy.  Who wouldn’t be?  But it will pass.  This very moment he is nothing but empty space.  He is like a piece of paper upon which you have once started a story,and then locked in a box and buried deep in the ground.  Now, 60 years later, you dig that same box up and continue the story from where the last sentence ended  (Colting, 36).

Continue reading Terrific Liars: An Analysis of Fredrik Colting’s 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye as it Relates to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

Reader’s Guide – “Zooey”

Publication Details

Franny and Zooey
Image by Megan Inghram

The New Yorker, May 4, 1957 pages 32-42, 44, 47-48, 50, 52,54,57-59, 62, 64, 67-68, 70, 73-74, 76-78, 80-82, 87-90, 92-96, 99-102, 105-106, 108-112, 115-122, 125-139 (original appearance). Later published by Little Brown as Franny and Zooey in 1961, and dedicated to William Shawn.

Character List

Frances Glass (“Franny”)

A 20 year old college student

Zachary Martin Glass (“Zooey”)

Zooey is 25 years old. He is considered one of the most attractive and successful of the Glass children. It is noted that he is a successful television actor.

Bessie Glass

Irish-born family matriarch. Bessie worries about her children who have all seemed to grow up almost by themselves after years of success on “It’s a Wise Child.”

Les Glass

The absent father, Les is more or less only mentioned in “Zooey.” He is of Jewish descent and he and Bessie were successful Vaudevillians

Buddy Glass

Buddy is the second-oldest of the Glass children, he teaches at a women’s college.

Seymour Glass

Seymour has been dead 13 years during the course of events that composes “Zooey.”  Franny says she wants to talk to Seymour and that doing so is the only thing that will make her feel better.

Plot Synopsis

“Zooey” continues the story of Franny’s “spiritual awakening” on Monday, two days after Franny’s trip to Princeton. The novella also gives the reader additional information about the unusual upbringing of the Glass children, whose radio appearances as child geniuses, has created a unique bond among them. Salinger indicates even more in “Zooey” than in other Glass family stories that the Glass siblings have a unique understanding of one another based on this shared experience.

The narrative opens with Zooey, smoking and soaking in a hot bathtub, reading a four-year old letter from his brother, Buddy. The letter encourages Zooey to continue pursuing his acting career. Zooey’s mother, Bessie, enters the bathroom, and the two have a long discussion, wherein Bessie expresses her worries about Franny, whose existential anxiety seen in “Franny” has progressed to a state of emotional collapse. During the conversation, Zooey vacillates between a sort of tit-for-tat banter with his mother and a downright rude dismissal of her and repeatedly asks that she leave. Bessie accepts Zooey’s behavior, and quips that he’s becoming more and more like his brother Buddy.

After Bessie leaves, Zooey gets dressed and moves into the living room, where he finds Franny on the sofa with her cat Bloomberg, and begins speaking with her. After upsetting Franny by questioning her motives for reciting the “Jesus Prayer,” Zooey goes into Seymour and Buddy’s former bedroom and reads the back of their door, which is covered in philosophical and literary quotations. After contemplation, Zooey telephones Franny, pretending to be their brother Buddy. Franny eventually acknowledges the ruse, but she and Zooey continue to talk. Knowing that Franny reveres their oldest brother, Seymour – the spiritual leader of the family, who committed suicide years earlier – Zooey shares with her some words of wisdom that Seymour once gave him. At the end of the call, as the fundamental “secret” of Seymour’s advice is revealed, Franny seems, in a moment reminiscent of a mystical satori, to find profound existential illumination in what Zooey has told her.

Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “Zooey”

Between Grief and High Delight: The Glass Menageries of J.D. Salinger & Tennessee Williams

Creative Commons License Written by Angelica Bega Hart. December 2009. The author wishes to note that this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

"The Glass Menagerie" cover
The Glass Menagerie (user uploaded image from Good Reads)

Critics have often examined the underlying significance of religion in J.D. Salinger’s short fiction. This is entirely appropriate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because what little we know about Salinger’s biography suggests that he avidly followed a number of religious traditions. As a young man growing up in a mixed religious household, as a Jewish soldier in World War II, and as more than a dilettante in the area of alternative spiritualities including Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and even at one point, Dianetics, Salinger’s attention to religion seems tantamount to understanding his work.  Moreover, there are both overt and covert references to Eastern and Western spiritualities in his fiction.  The relevance of religious criticism has often predominated critical attention to Salinger’s 1957 novella Zooey.

Critical attention which has not centered on religion has often focused instead on elements of character or on the ephiphanic moment during the narrative’s climax. Seymour’s “Fat Lady” is one such primary target for debate. Furthermore, many psychoanalytic critics have investigated the relationship between Zooey and his mother Bessie. However, all of these critics may have missed an important corollary to Zooey, in Tennessee Williams’ popular 1944 drama, The Glass Menagerie. Apart from a mention in Gwynn and Blotner, [1] contending that Salinger fills a void left by post-war writers including Williams, and a brief, punning nudge to the play in Charles Poore’s New York Times Review of Franny and Zooey, [2] there is little mention of any connection between these two works of post WWII American fiction. While there are important differences as well, these works share more than a passing resemblance to one another.  These similarities are most evident in the three main characters of each narrative. Other details of the stories mimic one another as well, as both employ elements of Romanticism and struggle with the idea of virtue. Both also deal with time and performativity in interesting ways in order to connect those elements thematically to the narratives. And ironically, both create some of the same mythic and symbolic connections.

Continue reading Between Grief and High Delight: The Glass Menageries of J.D. Salinger & Tennessee Williams

Reader’s Guide – “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”

Publication Details

“For Esme – With Love and Squalor” was published in The New Yorker on April 8, 1950.  It was later collected in Nine Stories (1953)

Character List

Staff Sergeant X (also The Narrator)

Narrator of the story, who has suffered shell shock and is telling us the story of a special child he met right before his unit participated in the D Day landings, as well as the dark period he suffered after battle.  The story is split parts, and in one part the narration is first person, in the other it is third person.  The third person narration is the point in the story where the narrator is referred to as “Staff Sergeant X.”

Esme

The young girl who has a conversation with Sergeant X the day before he goes into battle, and subsequently sends him a letter that reaches him once the battle is over.  In the beginning of the story, we are told that Esme is getting married, and that she invited Sergeant X to the ceremony, even though she only met him once.

Charles

Esme’s little brother, a source of comic relief in the story and the focus on many critical studies along with the two main characters.

Corporal Z (Clay)

Sergeant X’s roommate after the battle.  Some critics say he is the foil to Sergeant X’s character, and others say he represents the “squalor” from the title.  He is crass and crude, and very much a caricature of a young, toughened Army grunt.

Miss Megley

Esme and Charles’ governess.  She has a small role in the story, mainly as a not-very-good governess who allows the children to sit with and talk to Sergeant X.

Staff Sergeant X’s Wife

Barely mentioned.

Mother Goucher

Sergeant X’s mother-in-law.  Mentioned at the beginning of the story.

Background

Salinger:  A Biography by Paul Alexander tells us:

“As soon as The New Yorker published ‘For Esme – With Love and Squalor,’ Salinger began to hear from readers.  On April 20, he wrote to Lobrano from Westport to tell him that he had already gotten more letters about ‘For Esme’ than he head for any story he had published.”

Hamish Hamilton (a British publisher) wanted to publish a collection of Salinger’s stories.  Salinger was reluctant.  He ended up publishing Nine Stories (not with Hamilton), but “two months after Little, Brown published Nine Stories, Hamish Hamilton released the book in England.  There was, however, one major difference between the American and British versions.  Hamilton felt strongly that the generic name Nine Stories would have been the worst possible title to put on the book and he somehow convinced Saligner to let him use as the title for the collection “For Esme – With Love and Squalor,” the story that was perhaps Salinger’s most famous in England if not the United States as well.  To the public, Hamilton also finessed the fact that the book was a collection of stories by emphasizing in the advertising copy the idea that For Esme was the next book from the author of The Catcher in the Rye.  Hamilton wanted to downplay the truth, since story collections never sell as well as novels.”

Hamilton put the book out in 1953.  It did not do well financially, but was well-received critically.  Later the same year, Hamilton sold the book to Ace Books – a mass market publisher.  They did not usually deal with “real literature.”  Hamilton thought it was a good financial decision.  Ace published the book with an inappropriate picture of an older, sexy blond girl on the cover.  Hamilton didn’t consult Salinger before the sale, and Salinger was truly angry.  Salinger never spoke to him again.

ForEsmeWithLoveAndSqualor
Ace Books cover Image of "For Esme with Love & Squalor"

Plot Synopsis

The story opens with a first person narrator informing the reader that he received an invitation for an English wedding that will take place April 18th.  He expresses a desire to go to the wedding, but tells the reader that his mother-in-law (Mother Grencher) is coming to visit, so he can’t.  He says that he has “jotted down a few revealing notes on the bride as I knew her almost six years ago.”

The narrator then tells us that in April of 1944 he was stationed in Devon, England.  We learn that he is American, that he was an enlisted man, and that he was part of a “rather specialized pre-Invasion training course.”  His unit trained for three weeks, and then they were scheduled to be a part the “D Day Landings.”  On this last night before the deployment, the narrator had already packed his bags, so he gets on his outdoor things and walks into town.

Once in town, he stops at a church where schoolchildren are having choir practice.  He notices one child in particular, who has a clearer and nicer voice than the other children.  She is around thirteen years old, and is a very pretty child.  After the song ends, the narrator goes to a tearoom.  Soon after, the pretty young girl from choir practice comes into the tearoom with a governess and a little boy.

The girl eventually approaches the narrator, and he asks her to join him.  The conversation that takes place is witty and delightful, and the narrator is obviously very impressed by his companion’s intelligence.  The girl, named Esme, tells the narrator about her aspirations, her past, her family, and we learn that her father has died in the war.

Esme’s brother Charles comes over and tells the narrator a joke, “What did one wall say to the other wall?  Meet you at the corner!”  Charles is very amused by his joke and laughs uproariously.

The narrator notices the large wristwatch that Esme is wearing.  It belonged to her father.  She, having learned that the narrator was a “professional short-story writer” before the war, tells the narrator that she wishes he would write a story for her – and that she prefers “stories about squalor.”

Charles tells his joke again, and the narrator finishes the punch line.  Charles gets angry and stomps away, and soon it is time for the children to leave the tea house.  Before she goes, Esme asks the narrator if he wants for her to write to him, because she writes “extremely articulate letters.”  The narrator gives her his rank and name so she can write to him.  She tells him she’ll write to him first so that he doesn’t feel “compromised” in any way.  Charles and Esme come back into the tea room because Charles wants to kiss the narrator goodbye.  The narrator asks Charles “What did one wall say to the other wall?” and Charles happily replies, “Meet you at the corner!”

The narration shifts and we have the first person narrator telling us that “this is the squalid, or moving, part of the story, and the scene changes.”  The narration shifts to a third person narrator and the setting of the story shifts to Gaufurt, Bavaria “several weeks after V-E Day.”

Staff Sergeant X, possibly recovering from a nervous breakdown and suffering shell shock.  He is not able to sleep, he is chain-smoking, his gums are bleeding, and he is generally in ill health.  His friend Clay, whom he refers to as “Corporal Z” talks to him about his girlfriend Loretta, and tries to get X to come to some parties in town.  X declines, and stays in his room alone.  He finds a pile of mail that he had not yet opened, and opens a letter that is from Esme.

In the letter Esme apologizes for her delay in writing, and asks him to “reply as soon as possible.”  She sends her father’s wristwatch in the package, and at the end of the letter Charles has added “HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO LOVE AND KISSES CHARLES.”

X finally starts to feel sleepy, and the reader is left with the feeling that he might come out of this after all. Continue reading Reader’s Guide – “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”

About SalingerinContext.org

This site is an independent study project by two graduate students at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Elizabeth Downing Johnson and Angelica Bega Hart are both M.A. Literature students in the Graduate program of VCU’s English Department.  We  started this website as an independent study after taking a graduate seminar on Salinger in 2009.  Our professor for that class was Dr. Bryant Mangum, a wonderful professor who will eventually be grading us.

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J. D. Salinger