Yesterday, Vanity Fair published a compelling essay by prolific author Joyce Maynard. In it, she drew a parallel between Woody Allen and J.D. Salinger, saying both men harbored obsessions with very young women. Maynard was inspired to write the piece after watching recent HBO documentary series, Allen v. Farrow. But her motivation was born from the fact that, when she was a teenager, she had a relationship with the then-53-year-old Salinger.
A few months past my 18th birthday, J.D. Salinger wrote me a series of letters that led me to believe he loved me as no one else ever had … He told me I was brilliant and perfect, his soul mate and that we would live our days out together … I withdrew from college … walked away from a full scholarship at Yale, a writing job in New York City, the book tour for my first published work … He sent me away less than a year later with words of contempt and disdain … [It] left me in a state of profound shame that endured for decades.
Like so many Woody Allen fans who felt awakened by Allen v. Farrow, I saw Salinger in a completely new light after reading Maynard’s essay. Until yesterday, I had been entirely in the dark about his life-long pursuit of, and dalliances with, teen girls. Which is incredibly embarrassing to admit, particularly as someone who has read “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor”—a story in which an army sergeant obsesses over a young teenage girl.
Over the years that followed, I heard from well over a dozen women who had a similar set of treasured letters from Salinger in their possession, written to them when they were teenagers. It appeared that in the case of one girl, Salinger was writing letters to her while I sat in the next room believing he was my soul mate and partner for life.
After reading Maynard’s Vanity Fair article—titled, incidentally, “‘Predatory Men With a Taste for Teenagers’ Joyce Maynard on the Chilling Parallels Between Woody Allen and J.D. Salinger”—the proverbial floodgates opened. I realized that information about Salinger’s predilections had been in plain sight for years, and not hiding even a little.