A Perfect Day for Soldier J.D Salinger
This documentary offers a profound look into one of the most fundamental American authors of the twentieth century; a portrait of a by-gone era.
It is not absurd to think that every day —or every week, at the very least— a teenage boy identifies himself with Holden Caulfield, protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, one of the greatest literary best sellers of all time, translated to pretty much every language on Earth, and with a story that resembles that of a Bildungsroman and with the legend of its author, J.D. Salinger.
Through a series of interviews with close friends, editors and even his past lovers, Salinger, a documentary directed by Shane Salerno and written in collaboration with David Shields, takes a closer look at the self-exiled narrator to the outskirts of New York. This is not an overly emotional piece on the author of “A Perfect Day for a Bananafish”, but instead, it tries to understand why, for the second half of Salinger’s life, mystery and secrecy had to surround the author at all times.
In 1965, more than a decade after his first novel was published, Salinger disappeared from the public sphere, stopped publishing his stories in magazines and he refused to give any interviews. In a literary world where relationships are everything, much has been speculated surrounding the necessary retreat of the rebel from the mountain: thanks to the testimony of those who knew him at the time, we can now know that the distance which Salinger placed between himself and the world nurtured a genealogy of all his characters that still remains unpublished today.
Perhaps that is one of the greatest mysteries which the documentary helps unravel: Salinger stopped publishing, but he never stopped writing.
The traumatic experience of having participated as an intelligence agent for the U.S.A government during WWII is the secret backbone in Salinger’s work. How else could we put it? It’s almost as if we’d known it all along. The tension that oozes from his pages seems to come —once it is seen retrospectively, in the light of new information— from the anguish of survival itself. Salinger wrote as if he was on the verge of death, since during the months he spent on the Western front; he actually was on many occasions.
What stands out perhaps, is that young recruit Salinger took several volumes of The Catcher in the Rye with him when they landed in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. Few people have probably experienced in the flesh a terror like that inspired by German bullets falling like blades on their targets: hundreds of Ally soldiers that would never set foot on the hills of the French countryside, and whose bodies will forever lie between the earth and the sea.
But Salinger, above all else, is the story of an exceptional writer: a rebel that decided to keep his internal world —his literary oeuvre— beyond the reach of the market, keeping a jealous and unbreakable distance from all the possible distraction that could come between him and his work, even if these were those he loved.
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