J.D. Salinger published his first story in The New Yorker at age twenty-nine. Three years later came The Catcher in The Rye, a novel that has sold more than sixty-five million copies and achieved mythic status since its publication in 1951. Subsequent books introduced a new type in contemporary literature: the introspective, hyperarticulate Glass family, whose stage is the Upper East Side. Yet we still know little about Salinger’s personal life and less about his character.
This was by design. In 1953, determined to escape media attention, Salinger fled to New Hampshire, where he would live until his death in 2010. Even there, privacy proved elusive: aTime cover story; a memoir by Joyce Maynard (who dropped out of Yale as a freshman to move in with him); and a legal battle over an unauthorized biography, which darkened his last decades. Yet he continued to write, and is rumored to have left behind a mass of work that his estate intends to publish.
Thomas Beller, a novelist who grew up in Manhattan, is the ideal guide to Salinger’s world. He gives us a sense of life at The New Yorker (where he was once a staff writer) and a portrait of editor Gus Lobrano, whose relationship with Salinger has rarely been written about. He visits Salinger’s summer camp and the apartment buildings where the author lived. He reads the famous works with obsessive attention, finding in them an image of his own life experience. The result is a quest biography about learning to know yourself in order to know your subject. J.D. Salinger is the triumph of a rare literary form: biography as work of art.
“Beller offers a uniquely literary inquiry into the combatively reclusive and epically blocked author of The Catcher in the Rye and beloved short story collections…A fine and stirring portrait of a haunted literary artist.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Beller...focuses on the minutiae of Salinger’s existence, the small details that Shields' biography skimmed over.” —Lit Reactor
“Beller writes with intelligence and insight” —The Los Angeles Times
“Irresistible…endearing…lyrical and precise… J.D. Salinger is the story of the resonance of its subject, but it is also the story of a generous, humorous, sensitive writer, which is to say Thomas Beller. Not much escapes him.” —The New York Times Book Review“Rather than writing a straightforward biography, Beller (How to Be a Man) offers here an exceptionally well-researched, deeply felt, and thoughtful exploration of the elusive author’s history, in which he probes Salinger’s life and prickly familial ties, and their manifestation in his timeless characters and settings.” —Publishers Weekly
“In this genre-bending nonfiction delight, a Tulane prof and contributor to The New Yorker tells a story of literary obsession, deftly folding a slim Salinger bio into a memoir of his own pursuit of the elusive literary icon.” —The New Orleans Times-Picayune
“The objective, exhaustive biographies of Salinger have been published. Beller supplies us with what's needed now—a book that shines with a deep personal passion for the writer.”—Edmund White, author of Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel and Marcel Proust: A Life
“In this mesmerizing brief biography, Thomas Beller captures in lively fashion the many sides of Salinger's complicated personality: the recluse, the distant father, the eccentric genius writer. And there is another personality here: the biographer himself, at once detective, story teller and acerbic critic rolled into one. It’s hugely readable; I couldn’t put it down.” —Patricia Bosworth, author of Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman
“So engaging, so funny, so witty and intelligent and wise. I had not thought it possible to learn anything more about Salinger, but Beller has done it. —Philip Lopate, author of To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction and Portrait Inside My Head
“This book approaches J. D. Salinger's life and art from six or seven angles, all of them acute. Beller reveals his own sensibility along with his subject's, and the result is a wonderfully personal portrait, telling in every detail, gesture, remark and reflection." —Daniel Menaker, author of My Mistake
“It's hard to imagine a more perfect pairing of author and subject than Thomas Beller and J.D. Salinger. Beller is not just a close reader of Salinger but an intimate companion, an aficionado/scholar whose expansive curiosity, sharp insight, and wry self-awareness make The Escape Artist both a pleasure and an education.” —Meghan Daum, author of My Misspent Youth
About the Author
Thomas Beller's most recent book, "J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist," won the New York City Book Award for Biographer/Memoir. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Cathleen Schine called the book "sensitive and irresistible," "lyrical and precise," and concluded, "'J. D. Salinger' is the story of the resonance of its subject, but it is also the story of a generous, humorous, sensitive writer, which is to say, Thomas Beller. Not much escapes him."
Beller's previous books are a collection of stories, "Seduction Theory," "The Sleep-Over Artist," a novel; and "How to Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Boyhood," a collection of personal essays, many of which appeared in the New Yorker and The New York Times, publications to which he contributes regularly.