The Mysterious Life of J.D. Salinger

Perhaps no writer in history avoided the press more than J. D. Salinger. David Shields and Shane Salerno have tackled the tough task of chronicling the life of America’s most reclusive author in Salinger.

In addition to their exhaustive 700-page biography, they’ve created an accompanying documentary that will be featured on PBS Masters in January.

The book is composed entirely of endless quotes from Army buddies, family members, neighbors, ex-girlfriends and writers. And while it’s fascinating to read about Salinger’s traumatic experiences fighting in World War II and dating Oona O’Neill before she married Charlie Chaplain, the contributors can only speculate on the author’s opinions. Salinger, who died in 2010, refused to talk to the press and emphasized that he wanted to be left alone. He spent most of his adult life in a secluded house in New Hampshire.

His insistence on privacy has left fans forever curious about his encounters with Ernest Hemingway, who advised him on his stories during the war, and the she-said version of events from Joyce Maynard, who was only a teenager when she was wooed by the literary titan. There’s a chilling chapter about the disturbed soul who twisted the meaning of Catcher in the Rye into his excuse to assassinate John Lennon.

As troubling as these stories are, Salinger fans will be thrilled if Shields and Salerno are correct that his previously unpublished fiction will be published starting in 2015. They claim Salinger left instructions to release several manuscripts, some based on his war experiences and some about the Glass family from Franny and Zooey, after his death.