New Hampshire’s quirky writer and the intruder

In his twenties, Jim Krawczyk, now 64, got to meet JD Salinger. He later told his story to Storycorps and it was picked up and broadcast by NPR on June 8. But what do we really learn from his “interview?”

We learn that Salinger was human enough to let a stranger in out of the rain; that he felt Catcher in the Rye was a “nightmare;” and that even if you hunt him down in the woods, he still won’t talk. Maybe that is because he doesn’t want to be hunted down and spoken to.

This fascinates me for several reasons. One is that I live in New Hampshire. Despite the influx of people into the state over the last 25 years, there are still pockets of woods folks can retreat into and for the most part, hide. Many do; I have met these folks at the post office and at the dump and have respectfully observed their space, chatting with them when they initiate a conversation. They talk to you more when you treat them that way. For this reason, I feel like I understand or at least am familiar with the Salinger Krawczyk met.

Because I am familiar with the NH recluse, there are several things that bother me about the Storycorps/NPR 2007 broadcast.

First, it glorifies an intruder. People who live in the woods do so for their reasons, and I believe good old fashion civility requires that we respect them and their privacy. What if a complete stranger came knocking on your door unannounced? What if they started interrogating you about your work? I can’t imagine you would ask them in for a pot of tea. Intruding is rude, and I am sorry NPR glorified it.

Is the main benefit of relating Krawczyk’s story to communicate that Salinger had come to believe Catcher is a nightmare? Despite my anger at the intrusion upon Salinger’s, I do find myself wanting to know more about that comment (assuming it is true). I read Catcher and all of Salinger’s published short stories and now teach Catcher because it is in the curriculum of my institution. But today’s students do not receive the book with the same attitude the boomer generation received it with. Many are frustrated with Holden’s sense of alienation; they feel he is naive and whining. Some see his attitude toward his brother DB as selfish and toward those at school as unrealistic.

The fact that today’s students receive the book differently doesn’t mean I don’t think it should be read. Exploring generational differences in response to literature is fascinating. But the differences do make me wonder more and more what Salinger (may have) meant by his comment.

No matter how much I wonder, however, I would never drive up to Cornish and pound on his door.

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