In her memoir Dream Catcher, Margaret Salinger--who is, as everyone and their cat must surely now know, the daughter of writer and recluse J.D. Salinger--describes a childhood of unbelievable isolation and emotional stress, lush with make-believe,MoreIn her memoir Dream Catcher, Margaret Salinger--who is, as everyone and their cat must surely now know, the daughter of writer and recluse J.D.
Salinger--describes a childhood of unbelievable isolation and emotional stress, lush with make-believe, a world both terrible and beautiful ... that dangled between dream and nightmare on a gossamer thread. What shes describing, of course, is madness, first incipient and then in hothouse cultivation. In fact, just reading about it made this reviewer feel like her f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s were not quite intact. What was it like to grow up with a father whose love for children amounted almost to a religion?
Well, for one thing, there were always those impossibly swell fictional kids around to make you look bad. (J.D. actually wanted to call his daughter Phoebe, after the sister in The Catcher in the Rye.) Worse, though, it meant being forced to sacrifice her childhood on the altar of Daddys saintliness. She quotes the famous paragraph in which Holden envisions standing guard to catch little children from going over a cliff.
When I read this passage as an adult with a child of my own, my first reaction was outrage.... Where are the grown-ups? Why are those kids allowed to play so close to the edge of a cliff? Salingers reaction might be literal-minded, but it contains considerable truth--especially considering that she herself went over that cliff once or twice, and ol J.D. certainly wasnt around to catch anybody. When it comes to the ethics of writing a book about the experience, of course, friends must agree to let friends disagree.
No one can deny that Salingers account is balanced, thorough, and honest--sometimes to a fault. Moreoever, its clear that Peggy Salinger is an admirable person, who has fought long and hard to attain the level of happiness and understanding that made the writing of this memoir possible. And yet, theres also no denying that her book cries out for a strong editing hand. Reading it feels like watching someone sort out complicated feelings in front of you: compelling, certainly, but also a little voyeuristic, and more than occasionally digressive.
Salingers analysis of her father seems psychologically (and literarily) acute, but--urine-drinking aside--theres nothing she tells us about his character that a diligent reader of his books doesnt instinctively know. Get what you can from his writing, his stories, Salinger writes, but the author himself will not appear out of nowhere to catch those kids if they get too close to that crazy cliff. Did anyone think he would? Dream Catcher is written by the only person who had the right to expect such a thing. Sadly, his fictional creations, those wise children, were given his best self, and his daughter was left with the rest.