Three Early Stories by J.D. Salinger is a book that might, at first, seem like a scam. Salinger is dead and didn’t publish for many years and was famous for his lack of interest in publishing new work and suing people who tried to publish any of his older, uncollected stories.
As readers of this blog know, I am a Salinger fan. I was a bigger fan when I was young and he was still writing, and before I learned about what an odd human he was in real life.
Salinger published 21 stories in the early part of his career that he refused to republish. Fans would seek them out in sources of old magazines in bookstores, online and in libraries. Back in the late 1970s, I sought them out in the Rutgers Library and found many of them torn or razored out of the bound volumes.
This legit collection, Three Early Stories, published by Devault-Graves Digital Editions, found some way to get the rights to three of those early stories. Two stories were Salinger’s first two published works, “Young Folks” and “Go See Eddie.” The third story is “Once A Week Won’t Kill You,”published in 1944.
I can understand any author not wanting early work brought forward, especially if you think you were not at the top of your game when you wrote them. For me, Salinger’s best writing is from the first half of his writing life. Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories are great. Franny and Zooey is very good. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction is a collection that didn’t work for me. By then, Salinger was deep into chronicling the Glass family that live in many of his stories and their appeal to me decreased with every story.
Salinger had Holden say in Catcher that “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” I wanted to call Salinger after I read Catcher at age 13. I tried to catch Salinger at his home in New Hampshire when I was in college.
During my freshman year of college, Joyce Maynard published a piece in The New York Times about her freshman year at Yale which I read with great interest and clipped and saved. It dazzled me in 1972 that she had gotten a New York Times Magazine cover story published and gave me hope as a writer. The next year, she published Looking Back, a book-length follow-up that was full of things I also recalled being nostalgic about at the ripe old age of 19 – air-raid drills during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show etc. I still have my paperback copy of that book in a box of college stuff.
Salinger read that Times story too and liked it. He wrote that eighteen year old girl and he, then age fifty-three, sent her a letter that began a relationship. She left Yale to live with Salinger, and he dismissed her about a year later. She wrote about that in her memoir, At Home in the World, a book that pissed off some Salinger fans and caused others, like myself, to not want to call him any more.
Salinger’s daughter, Margaret, also published a memoir, Dream Catcher, about life with her famously reclusive father that I’m sure he hated even if it said some nice things about him.
But I still reread the three “new” stories. It’s the first collection of the author’s work in fifty years. I wish there were a few of the early Holden Caulfield family stories. I read almost all of the uncollected stories by finding them (and photocopying them) and these three are decent examples of the early work.
“The Young Ones” is the first story he published. It is about a college party and a young woman trying to interest a disinterested man. Not very original premise, but good dialogue and details.
“Go See Eddie” is odder with a brother trying to get his sister to go see Eddie for a job and being pretty damned threatening about it. Hints of a troubled family here.
The third story is “Once a Week Won’t Kill You” which gets into a WWII triangle with a draftee, his wife and aging aunt.
The book has some nice illustrations that don’t come from the original magazines but that look like they come from the period.
I would love a complete stories collection or all the uncollected stories collection instead of my photocopies. There are a few stories I couldn’t find. But I think in Nine Stories, Salinger selected the best of the stories he published in magazines. (The New Yorker got most of the best ones.)
His last published work, a novella entitled “Hapworth 16, 1924”, appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965. I found a copy of that issue and eagerly dove into the story. It is my least favorite Salinger piece.
Osiris Press was supposed to publish “Hapworth” as a book with the author’s permission, but someone foolishly leaked word of its upcoming publication and paranoid Salinger withdrew rights. That is probably why this new and thin edition had no advance promotion and just appeared. Salinger died in 2010 and although I heard he stipulated that nothing new be published for 50 years after his death, I hope the estate is more liberal. I would love to know if he was actually writing all those years he was hiding out. I suspect he was not. If he was writing, my guess is that it was more similar to the second half of his oeuvre which I would actually rather not read. The Salinger in my head from a long time ago is the one I wanted to call up on the phone.