Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book editor wonders if it is taboo to talk of possible mental illness associated with J.D. Salinger

By Jane Henderson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Book Editor:

Charles McGrath wrote a masterful obituary of J.D. Salinger for The New York Times.

Although most people believe it is right to only speak of the good qualities of the newly deceased, perhaps the words “mentally ill” should not be left out of appreciations of Salinger.

Traditionally, reporters do not report things they can not verify. But some of the disturbing parts of Salinger’s life - his affinity for teen girls, his daughter’s report about his interest in cults, drinking urine, etc. - are indeed being reported. Many of these reports, taken together, show that Salinger probably suffered some sort of mental illness.

So why don’t the obits use that term? It’s not derogatory. It doesn’t take away from his great, published literary works. It’s just part of the life. If his unpublished manuscripts did include pages written under the influence of mania, so be it.

If Salinger suffered from mental illness (like other unique voices such as David Foster Wallace and John Kennedy Toole, both of whom killed themselves), it was a fact of his life that may have influenced his works. But accepting that fact takes nothing away from his great characters, Holden and Seymour.