Monday, February 1, 2010

A different spin on J.D. Salinger and his rural life

Don't miss Katie Zezima's story in today's New York Times under the headline, "A Recluse? Well, Not to His Neighbors." It's chock full of anecdotes about J.D. Salinger's life in Cornish, New Hampshire, population 1,661. As the headline suggests, he was not entirely the curmudgeon of his reputation, as reflected in many of last week's obituaries of him. Read some coverage here and here. Indeed, if the tales in Zezima's story are to be believed, he was downright avuncular to children, and he sometimes sought extra time in public spaces, such as when he arrived as much as an hour early at church suppers, of which he was especially fond.

Zezima also describes how town residents helped to protect his privacy:
“Nobody conspired to keep his privacy, but everyone kept his privacy — otherwise he wouldn’t have stayed here all these years,” said Sherry Boudro of nearby Windsor, Vt., who said her father, Paul Sayah, befriended Mr. Salinger in the 1970s. “This community saw him as a person, not just the author of ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ They respect him. He was an individual who just wanted to live his life.”

The curious constantly descended on Cornish and the surrounding area, asking residents for directions to Mr. Salinger’s house. Instead of finding the home, interlopers would end up on a wild goose chase.

The entire piece is well worth a read for its appealing portrayal of a small New England town. In a sense, it depicts what I have elsewhere called the paradox of rural privacy--the phenomenon whereby rural residents often know each others' business, even as they pretend they don't or at least act in a way that respects others' privacy.

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