JD Salinger is suing pseudonymous John David California for penning an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye. The 90-year-old reclusive author, currently living in New Hampshire, objects to California’s projection in which Holden Caulfield, at 76 years old, escapes from his retirement home and wanders the streets of New York City.
Salinger insists that if he wanted to write a sequel he would have, and that his wish and right is for his boy Holden to remain in vague and angsty adolescence. The lawsuit rests on whether the sequel is considered a parody – a criticism or comment on the work and therefore kosher – or whether California is stealing Salinger’s ideas for his own personal profit.
As Salinger is still living, I think he has a right to protect his work. (And I also pretty much accord with the first line of this Gawker entry about a previous attempt at a CITR sequel). I don’t necessarily agree with posthumous literary houses arguing against sequels or parodies, and I believe famously guarded estates like Flannery O’Connor’s or Samuel Beckett’s do favor to neither the world nor the writer. (Wouldn’t it be nice to see a Beckett play in which the characters weren’t all dressed like Buster Keaton?) But as long as JD holds stake in the phenomenal earth, if he doesn’t want us to picture Holden as a crumpled geriatric, he doesn’t have to. And when he dies we can have as many “what if Holden Caulfield grew up and became a cult leader of a Utopian community in Burkina Fasso” riffs as we want.