On Wednesday, while the rest of the world, including me, was wondering how Apple’s tablet might revolutionize reading, arguably the greatest living writer, passed away.
J.D. Salinger, known around the world for his eminent coming of age novel, Catcher in the Rye died in his New Hampshire home at the age of 91. Catcher is a great novel, no doubt. And I’m sure for many people it was life changing. Salinger changed my life too, but with a different book, Franny and Zooey.
To say that reading these two stories back in 2002 altered the direction my life took in the years since is an understatement. I want to be clear as humanly possible here. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the foundation of every belief I had developed in my 20 years on the earth was at the moment of its greatest jeopardy in my life, when doubt held me so tightly that I could barely breathe, Seymour’s Fat Lady, a specter of a character that lingers at Zooey’s conclusion saved my faith.
The following fantastic revelation comes as Franny is telling her brother that she sees no reason to go on trying to impress people who she doesn’t even like, particularly a certain college professor. Zooey responds with a story about a Fat Lady for whom his older brother Seymour used to tell him to perform. Zooey tells his sister that he always imagined the Fat Lady as old and dying of cancer, and as the most reprehensible creature he could conjure. And then he tells his sister, as their brother told him:
But I’ll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his goddam cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that goddam secret yet? And don’t you know — listen to me, now — don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.
And Franny’s response is the exact same as mine upon hearing this:
For joy, apparently, it was all Franny could do to hold the phone, even with both hands.
For me, at that time as well as in all the years that followed, there has never been a better synthesis of the Gospel message.
Now is as good time as any to rediscover the work of Salinger. Read Franny and Zooey, read Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, read Seymour: An Introduction, Nine Stories and Catcher in the Rye. And let us hope, as I have in the years since I discovered Salinger, that up there in his house in New Hampshire lives at least one more story (though hopefully many more), one more chance to change the course of someone’s life.
Thank you, Jerome David Salinger. Thank you.
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