"Some comment in advance, as plain and bare as I can make it: My name, first, is Buddy Glass, and for a great many years of my life— very possibly all forty-six— I have felt myself installed, elaborately wired, and occasionally, plugged in, for the purpose of shedding some light on the short, reticulate life and times of my late, eldest brother, Seymour Glass, who died, committed suicide, opted to discontinue living, back in 1948, when he was thirty-one."
THUS begins Hapworth 16, 1924, Jerome David Salinger's last published story that appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965, and is about to become the mysterious and reclusive author's first book in 34 years. On October 18, 1996, while idly browsing through amazon.com, an online bookstore on the Internet, the following words from the catalogue of books on sale suddenly flashed before my eyes:
Hapworth 16, 1924, by J. D. Salinger, Hardcover, Price information not available. Published by O rchises Press. Publication date: January 1997. ISBN: 0914061658
My first reaction was— to put it mildly— disbelief. This surely was just a prank?
I had of course read the story, and the other 21 'uncollected' stories (see The Hermit In His Cave), like any serious Salinger fan, but the fact that it had been 31 years since he had originally published it (Ah, the 'Aha!' feeling once again as I type this: after all, Seymour was 31 years old when he offed himself! This would give you an idea about the adaptationist theories doing the rounds, thanks to Salinger's silence, I, uh, indulging in Seymour-speech, "regret with my entire body to say"), and suddenly one fine day, actually night, to see it listed, oh-so-innocuously somewhere unexpected, with no fanfare, no media blitz, quite took "my personal breath away!" to quote the precocious seven-year old Seymour in Hapworth again.
The folks at Bananafish had to be told. Bananafish is a mailing list on the Net where I regularly hang about along with Salingerians from all over the planet. The initial responses were: "OH...MY. . . G O D ! ! ! " "Is this book authorised? I can't believe that JDS would publish this story." "Could the whole thing be an elaborate hoax?" Wondered Will Hochman, who teaches Salinger at a US university: "My guess is that JDS . . . wouldn't put Hapworth 16, l 924 in a book— has anyone contacted the alleged publisher?" On October 22, Stephen Foskett, the Banana fish administrator, reported :"The Library of Congress catalogue now lists Hapworth 16, 1924 as being published in 1997. I've ordered MY copy!" The news was more or less confirmed .
By November 5, Chris Kubica had called Roger Lathbury of Orchises Press: "He confirmed that it'd be published in January '97, that it'd be $15.99 plus shipping when ordered from him (seems a bit steep for a 50-page story, eh?). However, when queried about the 'how did you get permission to do this' jazz, he said his lips were sealed. He was nice enough, but quiet. Now I have to ask myself, am I enough of a fan to dish out $16 for a mediocre story (see Hapworth 16, 1997) I've already read? 'Prolly."
Obviously, JDS had chosen Orchises Press because of its very obscurity. It has till now been publishing reprints of Tolstoy and Auden, along with much original poetry; most sales are through mail order.
Then, as we learned later, the November 15 issue of something called The Washington Business Journal carried an item on Hapworth. No one noticed. Except, apparently, The Washington Post reporter David Streitfield, who broke the story in the mass media on January 12.It was instantly picked up on both sides of the Atlantic, with some papers according it front page status. According to Streitfield's January 17 report, "(Lathbury ) had wanted to keep it as secret as possible, for as long as possible. His plans were some-what foiled when a Salinger fan saw a listing for the forthcoming book in the online book store amazon.com. He told his sister, Karen Lundegaard, a reporter at The Washington Business Journal, who wrote about it."
The western press hasn't still established who approached whom. There are to be, but naturally, no review copies (" They'll buy it, or better yet, not review it," Lathbury told Streitfield), no promotion (Lathbury, sounding uncannily like JDS: "My philosophy is that books are pushed at people for wrong reasons. There's a marketing mentality that has little to do with the literary experience. While I want people to know that Hapworth is available, I don't want to force it on anyone"), no disclosure of print run or advance orders received ("This is a book meant for readers, not for collectors. Part of the reason for not revealing a press run is to discourage investing. I want people to read the story"). Indeed, rumour has it Salinger insisted his name should appear vertically, to diminish its impact.
So what is certain? Amazon. com had listed January as the scheduled date, but it now seems to be March. As for me, I'll believe it only when— more correctly, if— it happens. After all, JDS has changed his mind about publishers a number of times, starting with Catcher. In any case, one can always persuade the nearest American Centre to get a copy of the relevant New Yorker and read the story. But the real issue is something else. In Hapworth, Buddy Glass, Salinger's "alter-ego and collaborator", appears in first person briefly to introduce , and to "type up" Seymour's 20,000-word-or-so long epistle, "an exact copy...word for word, comma for comma". It would be interesting to see if Salinger, circa 1997, has, as he put it once, been "fussing with it (' Polishing' is another dandy word that comes to mind)."
"Good night. I'm feeling very much overexcited now and a little dramatic, but I think I'd give almost anything on earth to see you writing a something, an anything, a story, a poem, a tree, that was really and truly after your own heart...Love, S."
— Seymour, age 23, letter to Buddy, Seymour An Introduction, the last book Salinger published.
(Sundeep Dougal professes to run a Delhi-based ad(hoc) agency called Holden Caulfield.