February 1, 2010

Attempted truthin’ it on Salinger’s safe

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You’ve probably heard stories about J.D. Salinger like the ones cited by Hillel Italie in an Associated Press wire story: “In 1999, New Hampshire neighbor Jerry Burt said the author had told him years earlier that he had written at least 15 unpublished books kept locked in a safe at his home. A year earlier, author and former Salinger girlfriend Joyce Maynard had written that Salinger used to write daily and had at least two novels stored away.” Italie notes that Salinger’s daughter, Margaret Salinger, also said her father was writing regularly and even “had a precise filing system for his papers: A red mark meant the book could be released “as is,” should the author die. A blue mark meant that the manuscript had to be edited.” Renata Adler and other Salinger acquaintances have told your faithful MobyLives reporter that Salinger himself showed off the black notebooks he kept his work in to visitors (although never letting them actually read what was in those notebooks).

So what, exactly, did he leave behind, and will it be published? Gordon Lish tells Italie that Salinger told him he was still writing about the Glass family, the stars of his published work. Jay McInerney tells Italie he heard Salinger was writing mostly about “health and nutrition.” McInerney also makes an interesting observation about the potential quality of that work — Salinger’s last publication, the 1965 short story “Hapworth 16, 1924,” was borderline gibberish. “I have a feeling that his later work is in that vein,” says the Bright Lights, Big City author.

As for whether there are publications to come, well, Italie reports the following responses to his effort to find out:

No comment, says his literary representative, Phyllis Westberg, of Harold Ober Associates Inc.

No plans for any new Salinger books, reports his publisher, Little, Brown & Co.

Marcia B. Paul, an attorney for Salinger when the author sued last year to stop publication of a “Catcher” sequel, would not get on the phone Thursday.

His son, Matt Salinger, referred questions about the safe to Westberg.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives

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