In 2013, following the release of biography and accompanying documentary Salinger by Shields and Salerno, we were told that there were to be five new works by author JD Salinger to be published in the next few years. I was sixteen at the time, the same age as Holden Caulfield, and Salinger was absolutely everything to me. On hearing this news I started crying in the middle of the street, and I still have a newspaper clipping of the story up on my bedroom wall. Since I put it there, it has done nothing but yellow and curl at the edges, and I am beginning to think this is the last we're going to hear of it.
In order to understand why this is such a big deal, you need to know about Salinger and the life he led. He was a private man - very private - and spent his time writing in a bunker where he wouldn't be disturbed by even his wife and children. Yet the publication and success of The Catcher in the Rye meant that everybody wanted him in the limelight. Who was the man who managed to capture the hearts and souls of millions of teenagers around the world? He was all anybody wanted to know and wanted to see - but JD wanted none of it. He buried himself further into his private life, further into spirituality and his work. He ordered all pictures of himself to be taken off copies of Catcher in an attempt to detach himself from the consumerism eating up the publishing industry.
It saddens me, seeing the Salinger who was desperate to get his name inside the New Yorker suddenly unable to stand even seeing his face on the front cover of TIME. It wasn't fair.
That's why it might automatically seem unethical to endorse the publications of the 'lost' Salinger works since their disclosure, but there's more to think about than just his preference for privacy here. Shield and Salerno's biography claim to have found five unpublished Salinger works, including a World War II love story, religious manual, a counterintelligence agent's diary, a short story featuring Holden Caulfield, and a complete chronicle of the Glass Family. What's more is that the interviews conducted through the nine-years research for the biography claim that Salinger actually approved the publication of the works, and set out a struct schedule for their publication between 2015 and 2020.
But it's almost 2017 now, so where are they?
Many speculate if the Salinger Literary Trust are involved in keeping the stories private. In 2014, the Devault Graves Agency attempted to publish three short stories internationally entitled Three Early Stories and were blocked by the Salinger Literary Trust. It led to a lawsuit which turned in the Trust's favour, and Three Early Stories is only available in the US. Perhaps they have similarly blocked the publications reported in Salinger, choosing to abide by his wishes that his work should be private. But if he set out specific instructions for their publication, why go against the authors word? Salinger knew he'd be dead by 2015 - publishing them now would mean the public gets to read the work without the expectation for him to write more. Whilst he'd been alive, his works had still remained private, and he'd died with his privacy intact.
Though the works cited in Salinger were verified by "two independent and separate sources", the Trust and those close to Salinger have remained silent on the subject thus far. There is reason to believe the information is fake, but the last chapter in the biography makes a strong case against any fabrication. One thing is for certain, and that is that Salinger never stopped writing, so where is the work?
Personally, I hope to never see his name out of print, ever, and I hope that is owed to by The Catcher in the Rye and the stories of the Glass family alone. Salinger doesn't need anything else published to be respected and loved, as his writing is already astoundingly influential. It's difficult to know where to stand here; did he approve the publication for these five new works, or didn't he? I hoped that Salinger would be the answers to everything, but sadly he has only created more. Fans of Salinger have to be content with waiting and re-reading Catcher until we uncover more pieces of the puzzle. I doubt we'll mind - we've waited long enough already.
Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno
Watch the documentary here