On this day in 1951 J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was published. When the book turned fifty in 2001 — Holden Caulfield then fifty-five, having first appeared in “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” a 1946 New Yorker story which Salinger reworked for the Sally Hayes sections of the novel — several retrospective collections appeared, some homage and some head-scratching. Among the would-be correspondents in Letters to J. D. Salinger are the novelists Tom Robbins, Jim Harrison, David Shields and W. P. Kinsella, whose Shoeless Joe (1982) had made Salinger a central character and inspiration. Kinsella’s note is on the testy side of testimonial — a kind of Holden-protest at having to fall in with the phonies and the suits:
I made you a character in my 1982 novel Shoeless Joe because over the years you made yourself conspicuous by hiding, claiming not to want publicity but raising hell every time someone mentions your name in the media…. Hollywood didn’t have the balls to use you as a character in the movie Field of Dreams, opting instead for a generic black reclusive author that you couldn’t claim was a thinly disguised you. My publisher’s lawyers said to me, “Look, all he can sue us for is about the sixth definition of libel called ‘false light’ in which case he would have to go to court and say, ‘I’ve been portrayed in this book as a kindly, loving, humorous individual, while in reality I as a surly, so-and-so who occasionally shoots at tourists when they drive by my house, therefore I’ve been portrayed in a false light.’”
Salinger had created two fictional Kinsellas — Ray in the short story “A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist At All,” and Richard in The Catcher in the Rye. Kinsella’s novel builds its dream of cornfield redemption upon this coincidence: as his hero, Ray Kinsella, brings the disgraced Shoeless Joe back to life, so he also transports Salinger from the land of the living dead to his “world of otherworldly baseball.” Had he known about it, Kinsella might have worked another coincidence into his novel: the real Shoeless Joe Jackson was born on this day in 1888.
…Shoeless Joe Jackson! How the mob
Rose up to cheer him, long ago!
Lajoie, Wagner, Speaker, Cobb,
Mathewson, Bender — one with these.
Oh, lost star of the Pleiades!
Hard is the heart that feels no pang
Of pity for his pride brought low,
Ho, the brave song his black bat sang!
What has become of Shoeless Joe?…
—from “A Song for all Sinners,” by Eugene Manlove Rhodes