New Documentary Tells The Story Of J.D. Salinger's Life

Few writers loom larger in the literary world than the late J.D. Salinger, whose The Catcher in the Rye has sold more than 60 million copies. Salinger spent the first part of his life lusting after literary success and the rest of it recoiling in horror at the consequences of his passion.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Few writers loom larger in American literature than the late J.D. Salinger, whose "The Catcher in the Rye" has sold more than 60 million copies. A new documentary tells the story of his life, one that was famous for being so secret.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: J.D. Salinger spent the first part of his life lusting after literary success, and the rest of it recoiling in horror at the consequences of his passion. He retreated to self-imposed, semi-reclusive exile, refusing to publish anything.

But because he was the author of the novel that's been called the great subversive anti-establishment book of all time, no one would leave him alone. Complete strangers would stalk him, and disturbed people would use his book as an excuse for violence, as playwright John Guare explains in the new documentary "Salinger."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SALINGER")

JOHN GUARE: If one person used something I had written as the justification for killing somebody, I'd say God, people are crazy. But if three people used something I had written as justification, I would really be very, very troubled by it. It's not the one. It's the series of three.

TURAN: Filmmaker Shane Salerno, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, never camped out in front of the great man's door, but he is one of those obsessive fans. Salerno spent nine years and an estimated $2 million of his own money investigating Salinger's life.

The previously unseen artifacts and unknown information Salerno unearthed are impressive. The biggest news of all in literary circles is the five new books the movie claims will be published starting in 2015.

Salinger was a perfectionist who could get melancholy about a misplaced comma. He yearned for success, but didn't realize fame would cut into his writing time. His zeal for work led the media to paint him as a hermit, but that wasn't true. He often found time for the companionship of very young women, like future novelist Joyce Maynard.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SALINGER")

JOYCE MAYNARD: Getting a letter from J.D. Salinger was like getting a letter from Holden Caulfield, but written just to me.

TURAN: J.D. Salinger protected his personal life compulsively, and he would be horrified by the tell-all nature of this documentary. The man's story is compelling, but our fascination with the painful details of his life is disturbing. The writer sacrificed a great deal for his privacy, and there's something inescapably sad about seeing it stripped away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. This is NPR News.

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