Father Dearest

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The latest glimpse of the private life of J.D. Salinger comes from within the author's home. CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard reviews Dream Catcher: A Memoir, by Margaret Salinger. This new book chronicles her life with her famous father.
J.D. Salinger, who is 50 years older than his third wife, may still be writing in a magic tower full of peppermints and pipe smoke somewhere in rustic New Hampshire, with the curtains closed against the view. But he hasn't published a story since 1966.

According to his daughter Peggy, this is because he can't stand criticism. Among the many other things her father can't stand are country clubs, the Ivy League, holidays, charity, white bread, soft butter, primitive art, coarse Negroes, trashy poets like Langston Hughes, ignorant languages like Spanish, anything that's second rate, that isn't beautiful or perfect including all marriages and most women, anyone who interrupts his work, including his wives and children and all the parasites who sponge off him, especially his wives and children.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
His daughter Peggy - Margaret A. Salinger - has written Dream Catcher, a memoir that would break the heart even if her father weren't the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe there's a gene for splendid prose.

She's a mother herself, an Episcopal chaplain, a graduate of Brandeis, Oxford and Harvard Divinity School, a former garage mechanic and union organizer, a worker in a home for abused and abandoned children and a singer at Tanglewood in the Boston Symphony chorus. But growing up, she has also survived everything from bulimia to chronic fatigue syndrome, from hallucinations to dehydrations, from a scary abortion to postpartum panic attacks, from alcohol abuse and bladder infections, to acute septicemia and attempted suicide.

Since childhood, she has slept with one eye open, seeing UFOs and fairies. Now, she watches her own son, hoping like the Native American dream catcher hanging over his bed to filter out the nightmares in its web and let the good dreams drip down the feather on his sleeping forehead.

But Peggy's father is the author of Franny and Zooey. And Peggy's mother did set fire to te house, cooking the gerbils. And real child Peggy couldn't be as precious as the fictional Glass kids. And it was never a perfect day for bananafish.

So we read Dream Catcher as we read Ian Hamilton's biography and Joyce Maynard's memoir, obsessively seeking clues to the writer who came back strange from World War II, who actually married and divorced a Nazi. Who insisted that one young woman after another abandon her family, friends and possessions for him, as if he were a cult. Who only sleeps in beds pointed true north and has been a serial true believer in Zen, Vedanta, L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, Wilhelm Reich's orgone box, Edgar Cayce, macrobiotics, and drinking urine.

"What are you doing," his daughter wonders, "that is so much more important than taking care of your kids and family?" The happiest she ever saw him he was playing ring toss with a dolphin. The only time he ever cried was when John F. Kennedy was shot.

When she needed money for medical bills, he sent her a book by Mary Baker Eddy, a subscription to a Christian Science magazine about miracle healing, and a note saying she'd only get well when she stopped believing in the illusion of her sickness. Instead, she stopped believing in the illusion of her father.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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