OUR FRIEND JERRY
In Cornish, we tried hard to help Salinger maintain his privacy
There is something about Salinger, the new book and the movie, that reminds me of Bouboulina’s funeral in Zorba the Greek. Now that he is gone, the most precious treasure of J.D. Salinger, his privacy, is about to be broken open by anonymous entrepreneurs and strewn about the village square for all to see.
Whatever the merits of the new documentary film by Shane Salerno and the accompanying biography by Salerno and David Shields, the violation of Salinger’s life of privacy is unseemly and disrespectful, vaguely reminiscent, to my nose at least, of an upwind landfill in a steady breeze.
There are a few things that should be said about Salinger at this point. He was a good neighbor, a man who wished to remain private in his personal life. Within the towns of Cornish and Plainfield, his desire was well understood, and in some way incorporated into the values of the community. Townspeople did not pry into Salinger’s life; quite the contrary, they left him alone, except in the rare instance when he needed assistance.
But not prying was just part of the deal; the unspoken compact for Salinger’s privacy went beyond that. The neighbors around his place made a kind of game out of his desire for seclusion. When the inquiring outside world came hunting for Salinger’s home, the folks in Cornish could get forgetful, or even devilish. Misdirection was the most common offering for an earnest reporter or grad student who wanted to meet the great writer.
Why? Because the desire to be private seemed a fair and honorable thing to most people in the Cornish and Plainfield community, and helping to preserve a famous man’s seclusion was a very low price to pay for having a good neighbor. It was in its own way a great deal of fun because, like calling Salinger by his first name Jerry, it’s what you do with a good neighbor.
(Peter Hoe Burling, a former state senator, lives in Cornish.)