By Corey Risinger
On December 1st, three unpublished J.D. Salinger stories were leaked online to photo-sharing websites Imagr and MediaFire. Before his 2010 death, Salinger explicitly planned his estate to include the gradual release of various short stories, forming a larger collection. His will conveys a desire for these pieces to remain unpublished until 2060—50 years after his passing. This hope was tarnished, though, as the three unpublished pieces: “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” “Birthday Boy” and “Paula” were uploaded to Imgur and MediaFire earlier this month.
Initially, some questioned the authenticity of the stories, skeptical the original manuscripts could be ascertained. But Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin and Kenneth Slawenski, a Salinger historian, confirm their credibility.
“While I do quibble with the ethics (or lack of ethics in posting the Salinger stories), they look to be true transcripts of the originals and match my own copies,” Slawenski said.
The scanned manuscript still maintains the assurance that the stories continue to be locked from publishing, adding a certain irony to their leak. Though Salinger was an exceedingly private man, whose wishes were neglected by the leak, his 41 page manuscript should still be appreciated.
On January 8th, East’s auditorium hosted Associate Producer for the documentary “Salinger,” Chris Kubica. Though his lecture dealt principally with the production of the film, Kubica did address the leaked “Three Stories” upon questions by his audience. Recent publications of the LA Times, among other papers, have stood by the view that ultimately, it is moral to read and download Salinger’s pieces unintended for the public. But Kubica, who both edited “Letters to Salinger” and was involved with the stealthy creation of Shane Salerno’s Salinger film, expressed a bit of hesitance at reading “Three Stories.”
“I’m not sure if I agree with that,” Kubica explained, with the caveat that he would eventually download the compilation of works.
In a phone call with director Salerno, he reaffirmed the singular nature of Salinger’s writing, and Kubica described Salerno’s personal quarters as the “best archive of ‘Salingeria’ in the world.”
“You’re going to read a lot of things in your life but you’ll always remember when you read Salinger,” Salerno said.
Despite Salinger’s trademark writing style throughout his “Three Stories,” delightfully accompanied by Holden Caulfield’s wry voice in “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” it seems “Paula” and “ Birthday Boy” were unfinished works. With notes from the original manuscript, including slashed lines and added plot ideas, the two works show a unique picture of Salinger’s writing development.
Perhaps garnering the most attention is “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” which prior to its leakage, could only be read under supervision in the Princeton University library. Though it was originally accepted to appear in Harper’s Bazaar, Salinger ultimately decided to leave it unpublished. The story, set in the traditionally Salinger-esque location of Cape Cod, is told from the perspective of Vincent Caulfield, Holden’s brother. The piece tracks the final day of Kenneth Caulfield, known as Allie to readers of “The Catcher in the Rye.” As an avid Salinger reader, it was a bit strange to see these slight alterations, but overall, “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” was a fascinating piece of writing, and potential prequel to “Catcher.”
In the story, readers learn Holden may have pursued a career in the army, and the burden of Kenneth’s (Allie) death profoundly affected Vincent, as well as Holden. Though he is never directly involved in dialogue, Holden appears in a letter written to Kenneth from camp, in which he expresses his classic “Holden jeremiad.”
“Dear Kenneth. . .This place stinks. I never saw so many rats. You have to make stuff out of leather and go for hikes,” Holden writes.
If that kind of revival of Holden didn’t make you smile, consider the subtle references Salinger makes to his own secrecy. Vincent, a burgeoning writer, who actually crafts a piece that bears the title “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” admits that being a writer can be isolating.
“I get lonesome up there… I told him. I picked a lousy profession. If I ever write a novel I think I’ll join a choir or something and run to meetings between chapters,” Vincent said.
Ultimately, the piece exposes additional family relationships that The Catcher in the Rye neglects, and it provides an explanation of Kenneth’s death.
“Then, as he barely reached the soft of the beach, the ocean threw its last bowling ball at him,” Vincent concludes of Kenneth’s drowning.
As they are, in their entirety, unfinished pieces, it is difficult to truly critique Salinger’s other two short stories. “Birthday Boy” follows a young man, Ray, who seems to be experiencing a regression. Salinger alludes that Ray is in a rehab center or medical facility, noting his progressive madness.
“Paula,” on the other hand, deals with a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Hincher, who believe they are expecting a child. Mrs. Hincher asks her husband to lie in bed with her during the pregnancy, though they later discover she is not really pregnant. “Paula” is clearly fragmented, as the last words in the manuscript simply denote possible plot points, but it depicts the intriguing creative process of a literary icon still so mysterious to the public.