Four years ago, I wrote to the novelist J. D. Salinger, telling him that I proposed to write a study of his ‘life and work’. Would he be prepared to answer a few questions? I could either visit him at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, or I could put my really very elementary queries in the mail – which did he prefer? I pointed out to him that the few sketchy ‘facts’ about his life that had been published were sometimes contradictory and that perhaps the time had come for him to ‘set the record straight’. I assured him that I was a serious ‘critic and biographer’, not at all to be confused with the fans and magazine reporters who had been plaguing him for thirty years. I think I even gave him a couple of dates he could choose from for my visit.
All this was, of course, entirely disingenuous. I knew very well that Salinger had been approached in this manner maybe a hundred times before with no success. The idea of his ‘record’ being straightened would, I was aware, be thoroughly repugnant to him. He didn’t want there to be a record, and – so far as I could tell – he was passionate in his contempt for the whole business of ‘literary biography’.
I had not, then, expected a response to my approach. On the contrary, I had written just the sort of letter that Salinger – as I imagine him – would heartily despise. At this stage, not getting a reply was the essential prologue to my plot. I had it in mind to attempt not a conventional biography – that would have been impossible – but a kind of Quest for Corvo, with Salinger as quarry. According to my outline, the rebuffs I experienced would be as much part of the action as the triumphs – indeed, it would not matter much if there were no triumphs. The idea – or one of the ideas – was to see what would happen if orthodox biographical procedures were to be applied to a subject who actively set himself to resist and even to forestall them.