Salinger will air on PBS' American Masters in January 2014, and today Simon & Schuster announced that a biography co-written by Salerno will reach shelves in September 2013. Publisher Jonathan Karp promises that the book will also shed light on previously unknown aspects of Salinger's life, saying in a press release: "Many of us who read The Catcher in the Rye have, at some point in our lives, wished we could know the author better. Now, we finally can."
Of course people like Salerno would try to lure us toward these projects with the bait of new revelations about an infamously eccentric writer. But which questions about Salinger's life could we reasonable expect to be answered at this point? Here's what we still don't know about Salinger, along with some educated guesses about how these new projects might address the gray areas.
What happened during his service in Germany?
Salinger served in the U.S. Army during World War II, storming the beaches on D-Day, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, and getting one of the first looks at liberated concentration camps. Vanity Fair's Kenneth Slawenski writes that the war "would brand itself upon every aspect of Salinger’s personality and reverberate through his work," and many have speculated that Salinger suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some say his story "For Esme—With Love and Squalor" is a thinly veiled portrait of a soldier suffering from PTSD. While posthumous diagnoses can never be definitive, more insight into Salinger's private life could give us a better understanding of his psychological struggle to process his wartime experiences.
What did he ultimately believe in?
Throughout his life, Salinger adopted new religious practices about as often as people buy shoes. He was raised Jewish, but went on to pursue Zen Buddhism, Catholicism, Vedantic Hinduism, Christian Science, and Dianetics (the seed L. Ron Hubbard later grew into Scientology). So what did he end up believing at the end of it all? The one person who stuck with him until the end, his widow Colleen O'Neill, has been press-averse since her husband's death. So it seems like a longshot to expect Salerno's film to clear up Salinger's shifting religious convictions.
Will we ever see a Catcher in the Rye film?
It's the million-dollar question as far as Hollywood producers are concerned. The author was cantankerously opposed to a big screen adaptation of his iconic teenage angst novel. Sam Goldwyn, Steven Speilberg, and Billy Wilder all ran into brick walls trying to secure the rights from Salinger, who said that he himself was only person who could ever play Holden Caulfield (a bit of a casting problem, considering that the author was then a few decades past his teenage years). But there were hints that Salinger wasn't entirely against the possibility of a posthumous Catcher in the Rye film. In 1957, he wrote: "I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy." The Salinger estate won't divulge whether or not he instructed his trustees to prevent an adaptation. If any of the interviewees in this new project are privy to that information, we may find out whether we can expect a big screen Catcher in the Rye before 2046, when the copyright expires and filmmakers can help themselves.