Salinger book to break long silence

By David Streitfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 17, 1997

J.D. Salinger, whose life has been one long campaign to erase himself from the public eye, is reversing himself somewhat at the age of 78. Next month will see the publication of "Hapworth 16, 1924," the first new Salinger book in 34 years.

Salinger is one of the most enduring and influential postwar American writers, and any New York publisher would have paid a bundle for the rights to the story, which appeared in the New Yorker in 1965. But in the literary coup of the decade, the book will be issued by Orchises Press, a small press in Alexandria run by George Mason University English professor Roger Lathbury.

Phyllis Westberg, Salinger's agent, confirmed the deal yesterday but would answer no other questions. Lathbury was not much more forthcoming, especially on the key issue of how he had gotten the approval of a writer so secretive that he had his agent throw away hundreds of letters he wrote, and so aloof he had her throw away all his fan mail without reading it.

Nor would Lathbury talk about such relatively simple things as how many copies he was printing.

"This is a book meant for readers, not for collectors," he said. "Part of the reason for not revealing a press run is to discourage investing. I want people to read the story."

Until now, that's been possible only for those who have sought out the June 19, 1965, issue of the New Yorker. "I read it when it came out," said the 51-year-old Lathbury. "I think it's true."


"The story. What it says. The main character is right."

That character is longstanding Salinger hero Seymour Glass, whose suicide in the story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is an oft-analyzed Salinger moment. Couched in the form of a letter from the 7-year-old Seymour to his family, "Hapworth" basically spans the whole issue of the magazine, running from Page 32 to 113.

In "In Search of J.D. Salinger," Ian Hamilton wrote that the story is "a weird, exasperating tour de force. . . . Take it or leave it' is Salinger's unmistakable retort to any grumbles from the nonamateurs among his audience and he seems fairly certain (indeed makes certain) that most of them will leave it. . . . The Glass family has, in this last story, become both Salinger's subject and his readership, his creatures and his companions."

"Hapworth" is "like the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Salinger cult. The real fascination is that somewhere buried in it you might find the key to Salinger's mysterious silence ever since," said critic Ron Rosenbaum, who last week in the New York Observer published an essay about "Catcher in the Rye" and about John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, who said the answer to his murderous act could be found in Salinger's novel.

The style of the story is over-the- top precocious. "The majority of young campers here, you will be glad to know, could not possibly be nicer or more heart-rending from day to day, particularly when they are not thriving with suspicious bliss in cliques that insure popularity or dubious prestige," writes little Seymour. "Few boys, thank God with a bursting heart, that we have run into here are not the very salt of the earth when you can exchange a little conversation with them away from their damn intimates. Unfortunately, here as elsewhere on this touching planet, imitation is the watchword and prestige the highest ambition."

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