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Only in America
29 July, 2009  
Trying to catch-up with Catcher

Swedish twerp tries to plunder J.D. Salinger’s legacy by ripping-off Catcher in the Rye ... Pillsbury Flom is far from impressed by the effrontery … 60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye is injuncted … Appeal pending

J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is so interwoven in American culture that it helped shape the life of President George H. W. Bush, according to the ex-President himself.

For over 50 years, it has been the subject of relentless entreaties from Hollywood to turn into a movie.

imageAll rejected by the author.

It has been a controversial mainstay in school curricula, in part due to its resonating depiction of teenage angst and alienation.

J.D. Salinger (snap) is still alive at 90, living a Garboesque existence since at least 1965 when his last original work was published.

His life continues to titillate the literati (okay, and me too) who have seized on rumors that Salinger has continued to write consistently for the last 40-years and there exists a huge hoard of unpublished work whose bounty will be released upon his death.

The Great Man does not speak to the media and has not given an interview since 1980. At least he has had the good sense to talk to lawyers from time to time.

He counted the lustrous jurist Learned Hand as one of his very few friends in Cornish, New Hampshire.

In 1988, he retained counsel to prevent publication of certain of his letters.

imageIn one such unpublished letter Salinger conjured up a scene involving Charlie Chaplain and his new wife Oona O’Neill (seen here), daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill and 36-years Chaplin’s junior (with whom Salinger had a previous dalliance when she was 16):

“I can see them at home evenings. Chaplin squatting grey and nude, atop his chiffonier, swinging his thyroid around his head by his bamboo cane, like a dead rat. Oona in an aquamarine gown, applauding madly from the bathroom.”

Salinger lost the case at first instance, but won in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit cost him the ignominy of being deposed. The transcript shows him predictably dissembling, but offers further tit-bits that he has continued to work.

In 1998 his lawyers successfully stopped a screening at the Lincoln Center of an unauthorized Iranian film adaptation of his short story, Franny and Zooey.

Things have remained pretty quiet since then, aside from the gentle murmurings of literary scholars, until the reverie was broken this year by a Swedish bounder calling himself J.D. California.

imageHis real name is Fredrik Colting (pic) and his hitherto claims to literary fame include publications entitled The Pornstar Name Book: The Dirtiest Names on the Planet and The Macho Man’s Drinkbook: Because Nude Girls and Alcohol Go Great Together.

However, Fredrik had a higher calling and wrote his first novel 60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye, which the original jacket described as “a marvelous sequel to one of our most beloved classics [Catcher in the Rye].”

The main character is Mr C, who is meant to be the original work’s teenage Holden Caulfield 60-years later at age 76, having escaped from a nursing home (instead of the original’s university preparatory school).

Fedrik then added a disenchanted Salinger trying to kill off his own characters.

In Fredrik’s own words:

“It’s pretty much like the first book … He’s still Holden Caulfield, and has a particular view on things. He can be tired, and he’s disappointed in the goddamn world. He’s older and wiser in a sense, but in another sense he doesn’t have all the answers.”

imageConfusingly, Fredrik’s agent later said after being confronted with the similarities between the two works that his client’s book, “is a completely freestanding novel that has nothing to do with the original Catcher in the Rye.”

The sheer effrontery of the whole venture was buried beneath the legal argument of the ensuing lawsuit.

Just pause for a moment to consider what we have here: a purported sequel to one of the greatest American novels written by some Swedish twerp whose previous work is nudie cocktail recipe books and dirty pornstar names you can use for your pets.

Like a sort of unauthorized eighth Harry Potter book set in Hogwart’s Retirement Home written by a Scandinavian admirer of J.K. Rowling.

Fredrik was apparently able to publish the work in Britain and was shocked when Salinger sought to enjoin him from so doing in the United States.

One would have thought that this breath-taking breach of copyright was an open and shut case.

However, Fredrik’s legal arguments were a damn sight more inventive than his fiction.

He now claimed his book was a parody or critique of the original and of Salinger himself and was accordingly fair use of the original.

Undaunted by the fact that parody was never mentioned by the author, agent or publisher until the lawsuit, Fredrik said:

“Like many people, I have long been fascinated by Salinger and his relationship to Holden Caulfield. I am intrigued by the fact that, after creating Holden and other characters, Salinger has not published a new work in nearly half a century and is almost never seen in public.

It seems to me that Salinger has become as famous for wanting not to be famous as he has for his writings. He has stayed in the public eye by claiming to have withdrawn from it.”

imageJudge Deborah Batts (pic) nevertheless was prepared to preliminarily enjoin the dissemination of the book in her finding published this month:

“In addition to the use of Caulfield as protagonist, 60 Years depends upon similar and sometimes nearly identical supporting characters, settings, tone, and plot devices to create a narrative that largely mirrors that of Catcher.

For example, both Holden and Mr C have a sister named Phoebe who ‘kills [them]’ and is their only real friend, an older brother named D.B. who wrote a short story about a goldfish, a younger brother named Allie who died when he was young, a mother who experiences nervous spells, a prep school roommate named Stradlater, and a history teacher named Mr. Spencer.”

Fredrik churlishly responded:

“It is a weird literature world we live in if we need judges to tell us what we should read or not.

[W]hen I wrote the book it was only about the book but now it has become about copyright and the right to speak ones mind.

I dont think anyone in the world wants to have a judge tell them what they can and can’t read. So yes, it has become much bigger now.

It is more important issues than just my book.”

Let’s all wish him luck with the appeal.