Books: SONNY

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An Introduction

(See Cover)

I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. I'd build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made. I'd build it right near the woods, but not right in them, because I'd want it to be sunny as hell all the time.

—The Catcher in the Rye

It is sunny at the edge of the woods, but the tall man's face is drawn, and white. When he came to Cornish, N.H., nine years ago, he was friendly and talkative; now when he jeeps to town, he speaks only the few words necessary to buy food or newspapers. Outsiders trying to reach him are, in fact, reduced to passing notes or letters, to which there is usually no reply. Only a small group of friends has ever been inside his hilltop house. Not long ago, when he and his family were away, a couple of neighbors could stand it no longer, put on dungarees and climbed over the 6½-ft. fence to take a look around.

What they saw behind a cluster of birches was a simple, one-story New England house painted barnred, a modest vegetable garden, and—100 yards and across a stream from the house—a little concrete cell with a skylight. The cell contains a fireplace, a long table with a typewriter, books and a filing cabinet. Here the pale man usually sits, sometimes writing quickly, other times throwing logs into the fire for hours and making long lists of words until he finds the right one. The writer is Jerome David Salinger, and almost all his fictional characters seem more real, more plausible, than he.

In 21 years as a professional writer, he has produced only one novel, one collection entitled Nine Stories, and 20 other stories in magazines. And Salinger's tempo is slowing: since 1953, he has published only four stories, though three of these are as long as short novels. He promises "some new material soon or Soon." Despite the meagerness of his output, Salinger, at 42, has spoken with more magic, particularly to the young, than any other U.S. writer since World War II. The appearance this week of his new book, Franny and Zooey (Little, Brown; $4), actually two long, related stories that originally ran in The New Yorker, is not just a literary event but, to countless fans, an epiphany. Weeks before the official publication date, Salinger's followers queued up, and bookstores sold out their first supplies. To a large extent, the excitement is fueled by memories of Salinger's most famous work. For of all the characters set to paper by American authors since the war, only Holden Caulfield, the gallant scatologer of The Catcher in the Rye, has taken flesh permanently, as George F. Babbitt, Jay Gatsby, Lieut. Henry and Eugene Gant took flesh in the '20s and '30s.

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