I became a slow and reluctant fan of JD Salinger after first reading The Catcher in the Rye in college, 1964. I was intrigued by the writing but not the spoiled intellectual Holden. I read Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories and still nothing really zinged but the writing quality. Then fifty years later I reread Catcher and was impressed by the novel's concentrated depth and emotional punch. Zing! It was clear Salinger and I had something in common other than PTSD in how to view the world.
I have engaged extensively in discussions on Salinger's life and publications at Goodreads.com. Some of them will be posted here along with new insights and questions. I want to know more, and will make available what I learn.
I hope you do the same. Feel free to comment. Share your thoughts. What have you learned? What do you want to know? Perhaps together we can discover some useful knowledge about writing.
(Here is my blog devoted to Salinger and his work: http://jdsalinger-me.blogspot.com/.)
What I post here will sometimes seem like I am defending JD Salinger, but my main interest is to understand him and through him his writing. Salinger would not like that, for he stated more than once that what matters is what is on the page and only that. I agree, but not entirely. Insights about someone's work are contaminated by the life experience of each reader and cause confusion Knowing something about the author can prevent some of this.
People who suffer from traumatic nervous illness often are permanently impaired. I say this as one who has PTSD from years of childhood trauma that included torture and beatings in addition to serial abandonment and severe neglect. I have had years of therapy and medication. For me to be functioning at all in society is a small miracle. I raised two daughters in a dysfunctional marriage, sticking with it for nearly twenty years before the plug was pulled on me. I wasn't a rotten father, but I fell short of my own ideals due to a late life nervous breakdown. Both girls, young women now, are doing well in life despite my shortcomings and we have good relationships.
The personal experience provided here is part of my credentials to speak on the subject of PTSD. I am not professionally trained but I know about the subject from having lived it nearly all my life and from having read books, gone to workshops and through informed observation of those I know and have known personally who were traumatized, some in my presence.
Let us be clear; there is trauma and there is TRAUMA. The simplest and easiest to treat form of PTSD arises from a single event. The most difficult form to treat is serial trauma, like in combat, month after month, year after year. The consequences of that are impossible to erase, but they can be mitigated to varying degrees depending on the quality and length of treatment.
I do not know how much counseling Salinger had after the war, but he would have found it frustratingly difficult to find a therapist who could keep up with him intellectually. How does one trust even a therapist with the horrors? Because once they are "out there" they can hurt again, re-traumatizing the patient. Salinger's writing may have indeed been his therapy. It has been extremely effective for me, but having a capable therapist was invaluable as well.
Salinger had a limited relationship with his kids. He provided well for them. He was physically on the premises even if he locked himself away for long periods. He was an imperfect father, but he didn't abandon them entirely.
People will fault Salinger for breaking off his relationship with Joyce Maynard over whether to have more children. Couples often break up over children. Better that than to bring an unwanted child into the world. To this I can attest from having lived in an orphanage with dozens of examples.
Having children is an issue that should be discussed early in a relationship. I don't fault him for stepping up and making that difficult decision. He probably informed her the very minute he made it, which is admirable. It allowed her to get on with her life sooner, despite the pain she seems to continue to struggle with, judging from her interviews and writings.
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