“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
—I Corinthians 13:11

Though his only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is one of the sturdiest best-sellers of the post-World War II era—a staple of high-school English courses, and a standard according to which every newly published tale of tortured adolescence is inevitably judged—Jerome David Salinger is probably as famous for his elusiveness as for his work. He has been called “the Greta Garbo of American literature,” and the more one thinks about it, the more appropriate the epithet seems to be. As Garbo’s early retirement into seclusion was triggered by the disastrous reception of her movie Two-Faced Woman, so Salinger’s decision to go into personal and...


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