Back in the Day

Salinger: 0, O'Hara:100

Why critics continue worry about J.D. Salinger, whose strengths as a story story writer don't hold a candle to John O'Hara's, continues to elude me. And it's nothing new.

I was reminded of this recently while browsing an old copy of Horizon, actually that of May 1962. The Salinger conundrum was the subject of an article by the late Henry Antatole Grunwald, Time's editor and a former editor of The Washington Square Journal at New York University. (I mention this latter fact for reasons of pure self-aggrandisement; I was the Journal's editor about 25 years after Grunwald's tenure).

For the most part, Grunwald argues -- correctly, in my view -- that Salinger's critics have by and large given him a pass. When they do take him to task, it's for what they would prefer to see reflected in his work.

Or, as Grunwald puts it: 'Thus he is often blamed for simply not being what critics would like him to be -- a junior Marquand or, better, an urban, Jewish, upper-middle-class alienated (and, of course, differential) John O'Hara.'

Grunwald quotes a 'disgruntled' observer complaining that '[y]ou cannot find out much about society from Salinger.'

Hold on! Isn't that the knock against O'Hara? Too much Society?

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