The death of J.D. Salinger yesterday has had reverberations across the landscape of modern American literature. Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City and Story of My Life, gives EW his take on the author’s legacy.
“When I heard about Salinger’s death yesterday I realized I hadn’t thought about him in quite a while. He left the stage a long time ago and his influence is so pervasive that it’s easy to forget how different the cultural landscape would probably be if he’d never come along. Like Mark Twain, whom he mimicked in the opening line of Catcher in the Rye, he injected a new slangy colloquial tone into our literature. It’s impossible to imagine the work of Philip Roth or John Updike without his influence. Several generations later, writers like David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers still seemed to be channeling Holden.
“Twenty-six years ago, when I published my first novel, more than a few reviewers remarked on my indebtedness to Salinger. Some commentators went so far as to suggest that my publisher had deliberately mimicked the cover art of the paperback edition of Catcher. I wasn’t necessarily displeased but I was baffled; back in 1984, it had been years since I’d read Salinger or really thought about him. In graduate school, we weren’t reading or discussing Franny and Zooey and I wasn’t remotely conscious of any influence when I was writing Bright Lights, Big City. I’d read Salinger in high school. I said as much in interviews. I’d point to what I thought of as more obvious influences like Hunter S. Thompson and Raymond Carver without stopping to consider the extent to which they were influenced by Salinger. I guess I was writing under the influence of Salinger, whether or not I was conscious of it. He’s the most influential American writer since Hemingway.
“As for the purported trove of fiction, I’m skeptical. Not of its existence, but of its quality. Anyone who’s read “Seymour: An Introduction” or most especially his last published work, “Hapworth 16, 1924” will wonder just how readable his later fiction is. “Hapworth” is a rambling, self referential, improbable letter home written by an alleged seven year old at camp. By the time he wrote it, Salinger seems to have decided to dispense with most of the niceties of storytelling, and to be talking to himself more rather than to the readers of Catcher in the Rye. I suspect we are going to be disappointed, but I would love to be proven wrong.”