You Get What You Pay For: The Unfortunate Publication of Three New J.D. Salinger Stories

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As we mentioned briefly yesterday, small publisher Devault-Graves realized that the rights to three J.D. Salinger stories from the 1940s — “The Young Folks,” “Go See Eddie” and “Once a Week Won’t Kill You” — were up for grabs, so the publisher pulled off an unlikely literary coup, and purchased the rights to publish them. It’s a bold move, one that will surely net some bucks for a publisher whose stated mission is “converting backlisted books into ebooks through two imprints.” The only problem is that the stories themselves aren’t very good.

The stories are mostly dialogue-heavy pieces about a bunch of young people who smoke too much, and more than anything they show that the young Salinger really fancied the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald — they basically read like something the Gatsby writer might have thrown away. Only the most diehard Salinger fans would want to read these works, and while I’m guessing the publisher would argue otherwise, publishing them is probably more about the publicity the stories have already netted than it is about pushing good material, or even making a quick buck.

It could be that Devault-Graves contacted the Salinger Trust, asked them to make an offer on the rights, and were ultimately unhappy with whatever they heard back. But I doubt that’s the case. The J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, much like the writer himself during his lifetime, is very careful about Salinger’s work and legacy. One perfect example would be the leaking of information about the four new books of unpublished Salinger work we can expect to see in the future. It’s hard to imagine that the Trust wouldn’t want to control whether and how these stories were released.

Yet that, if anything, is the real reason one should want to read these stories. The stories date from before the Second World War, a period that biographers have said for decades turned Salinger into a new man and changed the way he wrote. These stories represent Salinger as his most famous character, Holden Caulfield, long before he found himself catching kids running off a cliff in that field of rye.

They’re more innocent, more trusting, but ultimately, and unfortunately, they’re not all that much to write home about. They do have a purpose, but that purpose would have been better served by treating these stories better. The proper thing would have been to put them in some sort of collection to show Salinger’s growth as a writer, and the changes in his life. But since the Trust set up to make sure things like that actually happened failed to do their job, this ebook is what we get.