The Salinger Backlash: Faux-Recluse Accusations, Polanski Comparisons And All!

Okay, I get that there's gonna be a Salinger backlash, and Mikki Halpin's indignation with the uncritical reverence that's come out since the author's death is understandable. However, let's leave Polanski out of this, shall we?

Halpin's thesis is simple: we're whitewashing Salinger, and discrediting his critics, because we don't want to handle the truth. The title, "Salinger: Recluse" with an ugly history of women" says it all: first off, Halpin feels Salinger wasn't a true recluse, but just a guy, who had girlfriends and sometimes went out places, and was apparently often creepy and controlling in his personal life. Well, not having the recluse rule book, I couldn't speak to his legitimacy as such: to my knowledge, no one has claimed that he'd holed up in a cave, but rather that for a writer of his stature, he lived a strikingly low-profile life and deliberately avoided publicity.

There is ample evidence that he did not lead a solitary life apart from the rest of humanity. Salinger was married three times, and had numerous other long- and short-term romantic engagements. He seduced Joyce Maynard after seeing her on a magazine cover. He dated actress Elaine Joyce during the 1980s while she was appearing on such shows as "Fantasy Island," "Magnum, PI," "Simon and Simon" and "Murder, She Wrote." He had three grandchildren. He went into New York for dinner with friends. He was apparently active in his community, greeting clerks at the store, attending church suppers and town meetings, and shopping at Price Chopper. He spent a lot of time with his lawyers. And this is just the stuff we know about.

Church suppers! Price Chopper! Grandchildren! Um...gotcha?

Halpin's other point - that we need to address the reality of his relationships with women along with other truths - is a valid one, if not the revelation the author would suggest; no obit was without a mention of the salient facts of the author's private life and I don't know anyone who doesn't link his name to the pure claggy weirdness of that Maynard relationship. (As to the much debated daughter-son allegations, I'll leave posterity to sort it out.) But here's where Halpin really loses me:

Artists — both men and women — have personal lives, and they are often messy. Picasso painted compelling portraits of women he had abused. Roman Polanski assaulted a young woman and made taut, thoughtful films. J.D. Salinger went to church suppers and hooked up with actresses. I hope that in the wake of J.D. Salinger's death, his real story can now be told.

In case you missed that, here it is again: "Picasso painted compelling portraits of women he had abused. Roman Polanski assaulted a young woman and made taut, thoughtful films. J.D. Salinger went to church suppers and hooked up with actresses." Yes, she did just blithely conflate the rape of a child with - well, anything. Even should we choose to accept Salinger as a monster, this would serve to undermine the severity of crimes like Polanski's - or, for that matter, Picasso's. This is particularly irresponsible given the feminist frame Halpin gives her argument, presenting it as striking a blow for the discredited female Davids struggling against the Goliath of literary reputation. Well, here's a good way to discredit an argument - even the salient points. Ironically, given her subject, I doubt I'm going to remember much else of her piece.

Salinger: "Recluse" With An Ugly History Of Women
[Salon]