J.D. Salinger has died

28 01 2010

Long-anticipated news (I was going to write “sad news,” but let’s celebrate him). J.D. Salinger has died at age 91 at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. His work really means the world to me, is the best I can do to summarize my feelings. My love of reading “literary fiction” came about through reading The Catcher in the Rye, and every time I have returned to that book, the laughter, the humanity, the sadness, and the delight have remained and deepened. In the last four, five years I’ve undertaken the remaining books, those lesser known: Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction. They are all moving and beautiful. He was a misunderstood man and author, who disliked fame and distrusted conventional notions of success and respect. But he loved deeply, and his work will live on for a long, long time. I will cherish his books for as long as I’m around, and if I could write with an iota of the grace, humor, and spirit of Salinger, I’d die a very happy man. Here’s the famous Fat Lady speech from the end of Franny and Zooey, when Zooey Glass recounts to Franny, his younger sister, their eldest brother Seymour’s conception of the Fat Lady:

“I remember about the fifth time I ever went on ‘Wise Child.’ I subbed for Walt a few times when he was in a cast–remember when he was in that cast? Anyway, I started bitching one night before the broadcast. Seymour’d told me to shine my shoes just as I was going out the door with Waker. I was furious. The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors were morons, and I just damn well wasn’t going to shine my shoes for them, I told Seymour. I said they couldn’t see them anyway, where we sat. He said to shine them anyway. He said to shine them for the Fat Lady. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look on his face, and so I did it. He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again—all the years you and I were on the program together, if you remember. I don’t think I missed more than just a couple of times. This terribly clear, clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind. I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning till night. I figured the heat was terrible, and she probably had cancer, and—I don’t know. Anyway, it seemed goddam clear why Seymour wanted me to shine my shoes when I went on the air. It made sense.”

Franny was standing. She had taken her hand away from her face to hold the phone with two hands. “He told me, too,” she said into the phone. “He told me to be funny for the Fat Lady, once.” She released one hand from the phone and placed it, very briefly, on the crown of her head, then went back to holding the phone with both hands. “I didn’t ever picture her on a porch, but with very—you know—very thick legs, very veiny. I had her in an awful wicker chair. She had cancer, too, though, and she had the radio going full-blast all day! Mine did, too!”

“Yes. Yes. Yes. All right. Let me tell you something now, buddy. . . . Are you listening?”

Franny, looking extremely tense, nodded.

“I don’t care where an actor acts. It can be in summer stock, it can be over a radio, it can be over television, it can be in a goddam Broadway theatre, complete with the most fashionable, most well-fed, most sunburned-looking audience you can imagine. But I’ll tell you a terrible secret—Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his goddam cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that goddam secret yet? And don’t you know—listen to me, now—don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.”

For joy, apparently, it was all Franny could do to hold the phone, even with both hands.

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