Salinger sipped his champagne as Hemingway went over his ideas for
the novels about the war, but this time he introduced a new theme, that
of an old Cuban fisherman who knew little or nothing about the war in
Europe, but had his own war to fight in trying to catch the big old
marlin he knew was out there, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hemingway explained that it was a good allegorical theme that could
weave its way in and out of the three war novels. What did Salinger think?
“ Well, Mr Hemingway...”
“ Call me Ernest, Jerome.”
“ Well, Ernest, I think it is a story that should stand alone. It has no
place within the other books. Although it is a good allegory for man's
endeavours in this troubled world, I feel you should write it as a
straightforward story, pure and simple.”
There was a long silence. Salinger knew he'd overstepped the mark.
Christ he'd only just met the man and here he was giving one of
America's greatest novelists advice. The champagne turned to poison in
Ernest Hemingway looked hard at the young writer, and then bellowed out
at full volume:
“ Jacques, get another bottle of that damn Bollinger, I have just met a
man who knows what he's talking about! Jacques?”
Jacques emerged slowly from inside the cafe.
“ But all the Bollinger has gone, monsieur. I have a rather good Moet
from nineteen nineteen though, not as dry as the Bollinger, but acceptable.”
“You speak English, Jacques? ”
“ Just a little. I spent some time at the Ritz in London before the war,
a young woman taught me many things, including a little English. The Moet?”
“ The Moet.”
Jerome David Salinger, known as 'Sonny', was born in the fashionable
Park Avenue district of Manhattan, New York, in 1919. His father was a
wealthy Jewish importer of kosher cheese and a man Salinger hated, so
much so he never even went to his funeral. His mother - whom Salinger
adored - was of Irish and Scottish descent. It was a fiery mix that
turned Salinger into a man who, on the one hand, sought privacy, yet, on
the other courted fame at every turn. He was, like Hemingway - like all
of us - a contradiction.
In 1934, after leaving school, Salinger enrolled at the Valley Forge
Military Academy, leaving in 1936 without graduating. The following year
he spent several months in Europe playing the part of the expatriate
American writer when the last remnant of that romantic ideal had left
with Henry Miller.
After returning to the US in 1938 Salinger enrolled at Ursinus College,
and then New York University. By 1939 Salinger had decided to become a
writer, taking a course in short story writing at Columbia University.
His first short story was published by 'Story Magazine' in 1940.
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and America's declaration of
war, Salinger found himself drafted into the army, and by 1943 was in
Britain training for the invasion of Europe. He landed at Utah Beach on
the 6th June 1944 as a member of an infantry regiment's
counter-intelligence corps (CIC). As part of a forward operations unit
Salinger encountered some of the bloodiest fighting in Normandy,
fighting that would culminate for him in the senseless Hurtgen Forest
campaign of the winter of 1944 - 45, where Salinger saw hundreds of his
fellow infantrymen die every day.
To fight in a dense forest at the height of winter and against well
dug-in German troops, who are just a few miles from their own border,
was probably one of the worst decisions ever made by the American high
command during World War II. Instead of by-passing the forest and
leaving the Germans cut-off without supplies, where they could easily be
destroyed at a later date from the air with napalm and high explosive
bombs, the American generals ordered the forest taken. After countless
unsuccessful attempts, that cost tens of thousands of American lives,
the campaign was eventually abandoned. It was the First World War
mentality all over again. It was a campaign that Salinger never really
recovered from, and one that Hemingway also witnessed first hand.
To get a feel of that dreadful, murderous campaign in the Hurtgen Forest
- often called the 'Death Factory' by the GIs who fought there - take a
look at John Irvin's harrowing 1998 film, 'When Trumpets Fade', which,
doesn't pull any punches.
After the war Salinger began writing again, with many stories published
in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and the Saturday Evening
Post. In 1951 his most famous, and enduring novel, 'The Catcher in the
Rye', was published and still sells around 250,000 copies a year.
Salinger now lives a reclusive life in New Hampshire.
Although Salinger always spoke kindly about Hemingway, and the advice
he'd given him that day in Paris in August 1944, he did become more and
more critical of Hemingway's work, and like Hemingway himself - who
cruelly parodied Sherwood Anderson's work in his early novel 'The
Torrents of Spring'.
But at their meeting in Paris in August 1944 Salinger, after several
more glasses of champagne, knew his tongue was going faster than his
brain, but he felt pretty good, and Hemingway listened as well as he
talked, and he'd said some good and encouraging things about his idea
for a novel about the adventures of one Holden Caulfield, and that young
man's hatred of the phoney adult world. Hemingway had said that the
theme was nothing new of course, that Mark Twain had done the same thing
with Huck Finn, which was not a bad comparison.