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J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist (Icons) Hardcover – June 3, 2014

3.5 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews
Book 4 of 11 in the Icons Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Beller offers a uniquely literary inquiry into the combatively reclusive and epically blocked author of The Catcher in the Rye and beloved short story collections. Acutely attuned to the “aura of trespass” surrounding Salinger, Beller makes pilgrimages to Salinger’s boyhood home (Beller grew up nearby) and summer camp, and considers Salinger’s preoccupation with authenticity in light of the big family lie revealed after his bar mitzvah, that his mother wasn’t actually Jewish. Beller reports on young Salinger’s humorous writings for school newspapers and his love for his sister, who became fashion director for Bloomingdale’s, a career linked to Beller’s inquiry into the key roles clothing plays in Salinger’s fiction. Then there’s Salinger’s strange, doomed marriage to a “low-level” Nazi after serving as a counterintelligence officer in WWII and being among the first Americans to enter the concentration camps. Amid exciting close readings of Salinger’s distinctly affecting prose, Beller pays tribute to the overlooked New Yorker editor he believes helped Salinger excel, Gustave Lobrano. In all, a fine and stirring portrait of a haunted literary artist who rejected 17 “different shades of white” for the cover of Franny and Zooey, stopped talking to his daughter when she wrote her memoir, and barricaded himself in solitude, a “poet of longing,” elisions, and absence. --Donna Seaman

Review

“Beller offers a uniquely literary inquiry into the combatively reclusive and epically blocked author of The Catcher in the Rye and beloved short story collections…A fine and stirring portrait of a haunted literary artist.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Beller...focuses on the minutiae of Salinger’s existence, the small details that Shields' biography skimmed over.” —Lit Reactor

“Funny…entertaining.” —Newsday

“Beller writes with intelligence and insight” —The Los Angeles Times

“Irresistible…endearing…lyrical and precise… J.D. Salinger is the story of the resonance of its subject, but it is also the story of a generous, humorous, sensitive writer, which is to say Thomas Beller. Not much escapes him.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Rather than writing a straightforward biography, Beller (How to Be a Man) offers here an exceptionally well-researched, deeply felt, and thoughtful exploration of the elusive author’s history, in which he probes Salinger’s life and prickly familial ties, and their manifestation in his timeless characters and settings.” —Publishers Weekly

“In this genre-bending nonfiction delight, a Tulane prof and contributor to The New Yorker tells a story of literary obsession, deftly folding a slim Salinger bio into a memoir of his own pursuit of the elusive literary icon.” —The New Orleans Times-Picayune

“The objective, exhaustive biographies of Salinger have been published. Beller supplies us with what's needed now—a book that shines with a deep personal passion for the writer.” —Edmund White, author of Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel and Marcel Proust: A Life    

“In this mesmerizing brief biography, Thomas Beller captures in lively fashion the many sides of Salinger's complicated personality: the recluse, the distant father, the eccentric genius writer. And there is another personality here: the biographer himself, at once detective, story teller and acerbic critic rolled into one. It’s hugely readable; I couldn’t put it down.” —Patricia Bosworth, author of Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman  

“So engaging, so funny, so witty and intelligent and wise. I had not thought it possible to learn anything more about Salinger, but Beller has done it. —Philip Lopate, author of To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction and Portrait Inside My Head

“This book approaches J. D. Salinger's life and art from six or seven angles, all of them acute. Beller reveals his own sensibility along with his subject's, and the result is a wonderfully personal portrait, telling in every detail, gesture, remark and reflection." —Daniel Menaker, author of My Mistake

“It's hard to imagine a more perfect pairing of author and subject than Thomas Beller and J.D. Salinger. Beller is not just a close reader of Salinger but an intimate companion, an aficionado/scholar whose expansive curiosity, sharp insight, and wry self-awareness make The Escape Artist both a pleasure and an education.” —Meghan Daum, author of My Misspent Youth
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Product Details

  • Series: Icons
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: New Harvest; 1St Edition edition (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544261992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544261990
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. CRADDOCK VINE VOICE on May 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Escape Artist is about J.D. Salinger but it is also about the author himself, his experiences while doing research, the fate of other Salinger biographers, and finally, in some of the books most moving passages, what Salinger's writing meant to him personally. He also weighs in on how ultimately Salinger's Fortress of Solitude failed to protect him from the kryptonite of crazies waving his book around after committing murders, and the crazy rumors that flourished in the vacuum about him when those who knew him refused to say anything whatsoever about Clark Kent due to his zeal for absolute privacy.

There is a passage in The Catcher in the Rye where Holden Caulfield states that he likes to read books that, after you read them, you feel like you know the author well and want to call him up and chat. He has just read Out of Africa and would like to call Isak Dinesen up. He also wishes he could pal around with Ring Lardner. He doesn't feel that way about Somerset Maugham after reading Of Human Bondage, however. It turns out that tons of people feel that way after reading his books, and after trying to answer his fan mail personally it is just too much for him and he becomes a hermit. I remember reading a magazine article that was essentially the saga of a fan who felt such an overwhelming compulsion to meet him that he went searching for him, and when he finally did speak to him, the reclusive author didn't have much to say and was perplexed and bewildered about just exactly what these people expected of him. What did they want? Even though this story was nothing if not anti-climactic, I and no doubt many others read it with interest, curious to know what was going on with him. Was he still writing, and if so, why wasn't he publishing anything?
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Not a bad brief book about Salinger, especially if you don't know much about this reclusive author. I was hoping to read more about Salinger's life in seclusion, but there wasn't much here. The book focuses much more on what has been known about Salinger's writing life than any of the new letters or source material that may have been released since Salinger's death in 2010.
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Fascinating long essay on Salinger and the peculiar effect he has had on people's lives, despite being a very minor novelist and short story writer. Beller's reaction to Salinger is not unusual and he writes about his obsession very well. He has uncovered a few previously unmentioned tidbits of Salinger's bizarre life. A few critics I know have complained that "The Escape Artist," is about Beller, not Salinger. It is about Beller/Salinger and how the two have merged into a single personality, even though little is known about Salinger's personality. Interesting work and highly recommended for any American literature enthusiast, whether or not one is a Salinger fan.
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Should probably be titled "Desperately Seeking Beller"! A series of almost randomly connected New Yorker length essays about Salinger and Beller, or Beller and Salinger, it reads like a very well written ADD trip with the two authors, alone in a car for 2 or 3 days. By the end, you learn a lot of things, some about Salinger & his family, some about the eternal search for Salinger, some about the worlds of New York City and the time of post-Depression/World War II America, some about the New Yorker, and much about Beller. But, like the hors d'ouevres before a fine meal, the book leaves you still hungry, not full. It's well-written, in that classically New Yorker kind of way, but seems more about the writing than the subject.
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It's hard to rate this book. At times I had to switch mentally to realize parts that were the author's voice and parts that were actually about Salinger. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention. I kept re-reading passages which I normally don't have to do in a book. It was just confusing at times.
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I didn't feel the author had much to add to what is already known about Salinger. While he did have access to an unpublished manuscript about Salinger and many of Salinger's letters, this book does not seem to provide any new insights about the man, though people who are Salinger scholars may not agree with me. The most valuable thing I gained from this book was being prodded to read Margaret Salinger's and Joyce Meyer's books, both of which I found fascinating. Realizing that Salinger did not think people needed to, or should, know anything about his personal life, the narratives from people who knew him., for me, does add to my appreciation of his work.
Beller seems most interested in showing how his background and experiences are similar to Salinger's - not that interesting to the reader, though.
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This short book starts off with an intriguing premise. Soon after becoming a celebrated author, JD Salinger moved to an isolated town in New Hampshire and attempted to create a wall of secrecy around himself. In turn, his withdrawal sparked a cottage industry of snoopy journalism and intrusive critical theorizing. Beller wants to do something different--to walk in Salinger's footsteps as an act of both self-revelation and appreciation. At first he succeeds, detailing his attempts to visit sites like the Salinger family apartment and a camp where Salinger spent a summer. All this seems to proceed from a deep admiration for the author and a sense that he (Beller) has much in common with Salinger.

But about half way thru the book, Beller starts going off on tangents, particularly about the women in Salinger's life including daughter Margaret Salinger and Joyce Maynard who at age 19 moved in with the 53 year old author. Although seeming sympathetic with the plight of women who come into the orbit of a famous man, he makes a lot of mean-spirited cracks about Maynard in particular. At this point Beller's intentions begin to get muddy and his identification with Salinger turns unpleasantly competitive. Is he resentful of the obsessive hold Salinger has on his own imagination?

There is interesting new information (for me) about Salinger here, and Beller teases out intriguing connections between the author's life and his art. But Beller's attempt at paralleling his own life experiences with Salinger's just does not work. I'm left with no interest in reading more of the author's writing.
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