J.D Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski Review

Kenneth Slawenski has a keen eye for J.D. Salinger, and hosting the website dedicated to the author since 2004 makes him an authority. This detail comes through in Salinger's biography--a recommended read.

Clearly written and comprehensible, Ken flows us along the life of the author in a chronologically accurate journey from a young man, to noted celebrity, to reclusive Granite stater. We learn the ins and outs of his writing career--not always a smashing success, particularly some of his early works and "Hapworth"--and it's a memorable journey for both fans of JDS and budding writers seeking an understanding of legacy publishing's sometimes harsh light. Salinger's life puts the art of mainstream publishing in perspective.

I disagree with the reviewers who mention that this book slights the last forty years of Salinger's life; there is a thorough enough review and understanding of this period of his existence, his interaction with the locals, and his desire for privacy. All major events of his later years--his litigation with biographers and other writers, his relationships, his interactions in Cornish-Windsor--are all included. Information is also included about Salinger's death, and the effect he has on modern youth.

Some Amazon reviewers have spotted that Slawenski explains each and every Salinger story in painstaking detail. Although unnecessary, the intent was to be inclusive rather than exclusive, as each story review does including side notes and critiques of the stories from others (editors, other authors, etc.). Even so, reading about each story was one part I skipped, if for no other reason than to avoid spoilers. An appendixed list of each story, publication date, source of publication, and mention of the story's current existence (many were not accepted and lost forever) would be welcomed.

The strength of this biography is two-fold. First, the encyclopedic knowledge of the subject imparted in an articulate and pleasurable way by Mr. Slawenski. And, second, that Mr. Slawenski withholds, on the whole, his own personal judgment and biases and opinions about Jerry Salinger, and allows the reader to judge for himself the man that is Salinger. Many autobiographers would have an agenda--a hidden theme or opinion--such as being sympathetic to Salinger's shyness. Most would have slipped easily into the titillating tabloid fodder of the man.

But Ken has avoided this sticky morass (which has already been slogged out in other tomes on Salinger) and helped the avid reader and enthusiast understand his writings. His process. How the world around him played into his work. This biography gives only minor mention of the intricacies of his family life; that, perhaps, is what some of the other Amazon reviewers were hoping for when they mention a lack of revelation in this book. But this biography is loaded with revelation about his process, how his war and life experiences and spirituality played into his work. It delves deeply into Salinger's relationships with authors and editors and his publishers, like The New Yorker, with greater detail than any biography to date. The keen understanding of the writing process and the writer within the man is the quintessence of this particular biography.

Raise the praise high, readers, for Ken Slawenski has tackled a monster of a book for anyone wishing to experience the very essence of Jerome Salinger's writing life. To understand the writer, this is the work to read.

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