December 4, 2013
Three Salinger stories “leaked” online
by Kirsten Reach
Three stories by J.D. Salinger, known but unpublished in accordance with the author’s wishes, were uploaded to What.cd last week. Within two hours, the news hit Reddit, and the “locked” stories spread far and wide. What will the publisher do, now that the illegal upload has sparked so much buzz about the author’s unpublished work?
“I wrote [these stories] a long time ago, and I never had any intention of publishing them,” Salinger said to The New York Times. “I wanted them to die a perfectly natural death. I’m not trying to hide the gaucheries of my youth. I just don’t think they’re worthy of publishing.”
The stories were titled “Paula,” “Birthday Boy,” and “Ocean Full of Bowling Balls.” The last of these is the most famous, since it is thought to be the precursor to the The Catcher in the Rye. (The protagonist, Kenneth Caulfield, was probably the basis for Allie.)
The leak was edition six of twenty-five of Three Stories, which sold on eBay.co.uk for a modest £67.50. “Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” is a part of Princeton University’s Firestone Library, and the other two are part of the special collections at the University of Texas, Austin. LA Times book critic David L. Ulin and Salinger scholar Kenneth Slawenski were able to verify that these stories matched the originals from both libraries.
Though his sense of morality may be questionable, Ebay seller Seymourstainglass writes an impressive product description. For “Paula,” he writes, “Whether or not this is some form of Salinger’s lost story ‘Paula’ is pure speculation. However, in a letter dated October 31 (1941), Salinger states that he is ‘finishing a horror story (my first and last) called ‘Mrs. Hincher.” The letter is included in the scanned text.
“Paula” was a commercial horror story, intended to get Salinger’s name in print. It was the story of a woman who tells her husband she must remain in bed for nine months of pregnancy. At the end of the story, he discovers his (infertile) wife naked in a crib. Salinger sold the story to Stag, a middlebrow publication for men, but it was never published.
“Birthday Boy” may be an early draft of a lost story, “A Male Goodbye,” according to a Daily Beast article from Andrew Romano. It’s about a woman’s visit to the hospital to see her alcoholic husband, who pleads for a drink and eventually gropes her. Slawenski says the story “offers neither enlightenment nor redemption. It is an expression of sheer sourness, a tart splatter of forlorn rage.”
The seller writes:
“Salinger references this story as late as 1951 in letters, but its date of completion was actually 1946. According to notes available on the manuscript found in the Harry Ransom Center, as well as the correspondence to his literary agent at the time, Dorothy Olding, he intended to sell the story to one of the “slicks” to acquire some financial security after he returned from his military service….
‘Birthday Boy’ is accompanied by a letter from Salinger to John Woodburn which refers to ‘both sets of proofs.’ Although undated, the letter probably dates to 1951, the year that Woodburn published The Catcher in the Rye. However, it’s also likely that the letter does not reference Catcher, but a short story sent to placate the editor instead.”
The story was supposed to be published in Harper’s Bazaar, but was not published. After this story, Salinger wrote a handful of stories for The New Yorker including “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” and “Just Before the War with the Eskimos.”
Salinger sold “Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” to Woman’s Home Companion in 1948, but the magazine’s publisher found it too “downbeat” and refused to print it. A year later, he likely revised the title and sent a revised draft, “A Summer Accident,” to The New Yorker, then Collier’s. Knox Burger, editor at Collier’s in 1948, said the story “contains the greatest letter home from camp ever composed by man or boy.”
But Salinger eventually withdrew his submission, saying the story was not finished. He asked that his unfinished stories not be published until fifty years after his death. That would be 2060 at the earliest, but the documentary released this year suggested his estate could publish at least five new books beginning as early as 2015-2020. According to the New York Times, Salinger’s family has declined to comment on that claim.
The Guardian reported in September that these titles would be “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans,” a short story from 1962 featuring Holden Caulfield; A World War II Love Story, which is based on Salinger’s brief marriage to a Nazi collaborator, Sylvia; A Counterintelligence Agent’s Diary, based on Salinger’s experience interrogating prisoners during the final months of WWII; A Religious Manual, about the author’s relationship with Advaita Vendanta Hinduism; and The Complete Chronicle of the Glass Family, a short story collection about Seymour Glass, who appears in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and a few novellas.
Kristopher Jansma wrote about tracking down “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans” and “Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” for The Millions a few years ago, if you need a guide for the pilgrimage. The question now is how the estate and Hachette Livre will proceed after all of this buzz: will they release these stories to the public in print, or honor Salinger’s wish to keep them quiet until 2060?
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.