Read Salinger's Letters Online

Authors: Nils Schou

Salinger's Letters

 

 

 

 

Nils Schou
is a television writer and novelist based in his native Denmark. Born in Copenhagen in 1942 he is the author of many books. He really did correspond with Salinger and this is the originating point for his funny and wise novel,
Salinger's Letters
.

 

 

SALINGER'S LETTERS
Nils Schou
Translated by
Joan Høberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

First published in Great Britain and the

United States of America

Sandstone Press Ltd

Dochcarty Road

Dingwall

Ross-shire

IV15 9UG

Scotland.

 

www.sandstonepress.com

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

Copyright © Nils Schou 2015

Editor: Robert Davidson

 

The moral right of Nils Schou to be recognised as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patent Act, 1988.

 

The publisher acknowledges support from Creative Scotland towards publication of this volume.

 

 

ISBN: 978-1-910124-65-9

ISBNe: 978-1-910124-66-6

 

Cover design by Mark Ecob

Ebook by Iolaire Typesetting, Newtonmore.

 

 

 

 

To Timme, William and Lillus

 

ONE
The Quest Begins

 

The call came at 9 p.m. It was April 17
th
, 1987.

A man's voice speaking with an American accent asked if I was Mr. Moller, Mr. Dan Moller.

I replied that I was.

‘My name's Goldman, Arthur Goldman from New York,' he said. His voice was slightly nasal, low pitched.

He said he was a lawyer and mentioned the name of a firm consisting of a long list of names. Goldman, his own name, was the last one on the list. He would be in Copenhagen in five days, he said, and he would be staying at the Hotel d'Angleterre at Kongens Nytorv Square. Would I do him the honour of meeting him at the hotel on the day of his arrival? I asked what it was all about.

Something that could be of great benefit to both of us, was his reply.

‘What kind of something?' I asked.

He would prefer to discuss it with me when we met, he said.

I asked him if he was sure he had reached the right Dan Moller.

As a young man did I go to dental school and live at Nordisk Kollegium in the Osterbro section of Copenhagen, he inquired.

I did, I replied.

Then you're the right Dan Moller, he said.

We fixed the time for our meeting and then he breathed into the receiver, ‘I think you should be there, this could really be to your advantage', and hung up.

Although I had racked my brains trying to guess what this could be about, I still had no clue when at 10.30 on a Thursday morning I walked into the lobby of the Hotel d'Angleterre.

Before I had made it over to the reception desk a small man wearing a light coloured suit approached me and smilingly exclaimed, you must be Dan, the writer, Dan Moller.

I asked him how he could tell.

‘The way you're dressed,' he said and laughed aloud.

Before I had time to wonder whether there was a dress code for writers the man was shaking my hand and clapping me heartily on the shoulder with the other hand. ‘I'm really glad to meet you, Dan! Really glad!' he said.

As to why he should be so glad to meet me I still had no idea.

He looked very young, very energetic, very Jewish-American. He was in his early thirties at the most, with close-cropped curly black hair that had begun to grey at the temples. He radiated a vitality and exuberance that made me like him at once. Everything was ‘wonderful, just great, fabulous'.

A blonde woman in a red dress appeared behind him. The man introduced her as his wife, Rose. She acted as his travelling companion and secretary, he informed me.

Rose shook my hand and assured me she was very glad to meet me, too. Would I care to join them in the restaurant for a late breakfast?

‘That would make us both extremely happy,' she said.

So much good will combined with the prospect of a breakfast at the window looking out on Kongens Nytorv Square was an offer I couldn't refuse.

I took the seat by the window in the vague hope that someone I knew would pass by and see me there. Like that woman from the Tax Collector's Office I met with the day before who had asked if writing was a hobby. Or the artistic director at the Royal Theatre who would never buy my plays because she only wanted to produce young playwrights. Or one of the critics that had panned my latest novel. I would nod to them pleasantly and they would be wondering how the hell I could afford to have breakfast at the d'Angleterre.

Arthur Goldman, who asked me to call him Art or Artie, and his wife Rose, who was charming and beautiful, spoke of the flight from New York to Copenhagen and about Scandinavia where they had spent their honeymoon a few years ago.

It was an excellent breakfast. I relished having a waiter by my side refilling my coffee cup whenever it was empty; nor was it an everyday occurrence, a waiter asking me at regular intervals if everything was ok, if the food was to my liking and if there was anything else he could get me.

The conversation drifted pleasantly across the table. Art and Rose mentioned that their good friend from the Upper East Side, Woody Allen, had stayed at the hotel 10 years before when he and Mia Farrow and a number of their children had been on a tour of Scandinavia. Among the children was Soon, the adopted daughter, who later became Woody's girlfriend and wife.

Art and Rose described the house Woody and his young wife were renovating on 85
th
Street.

I nodded, enjoying every minute of the breakfast and the pleasant company. The misunderstanding that undoubtedly was at the root of the situation would have to hold until the truth came out, at which point the breakfast would necessarily draw to a natural close.

In a sense this was a perfectly normal situation for me. I had no idea what I was doing here, no idea who these people were, and all I could feel was myself, whom I wasn't too comfortable with.

I was on my fifth cup of coffee, served by a solicitous waiter, when Art changed the course of the conversation and without preamble started talking business.

‘Dan, good buddy', he said, ‘A number of years ago you entered into correspondence with a famous American author.'

At that moment, at that very second, I caught sight of my wife on the other side of the window. She was walking her bike on the sidewalk in front of the d'Angleterre, smiling sweetly at me, with a mocking look that clearly said, ‘There goes a man with a huge bank overdraft bumming a cup of coffee.' She mounted her bike and rode off quickly down the sidewalk.

My first thought was, ‘Oh no, they're going to give her a ticket for riding a bike illegally on the sidewalk. A ticket is just what we don't need given the current state of our finances.'

Art and his wife were taking some papers out of a briefcase. Rose pushed one of the papers over to me and said, ‘To our knowledge you have received between 50 and 70 letters from J.D. Salinger over the years, maybe more.'

I was 45 years old. I had always told my children I would live to be 90. In other words I had reached the halfway mark. For the most part I groped around in the dark without much direction. I'd been doing that all my life though. I'd got used to it.

In a fraction of a second all the pieces fell into place. This was no mistake.

Yes, I had been in correspondence with J.D. Salinger since the late 1960s although I wasn't sure about the number of letters. J.D. Salinger, the world-famous author, the recluse who had never given a proper interview in his life except to a schoolgirl writing for a local school newspaper in Cornish, New Hampshire, had written back when I wrote to him for the first time.

His novel,
The Catcher in the Rye
, which was published in 1951, had won him international acclaim. But I hadn't written to him about that. I had written about something else and anyway his later work, particularly
Frannie and Zooey
, interested me more.

The reason he had answered me was without a doubt due to his interest in Soren Kierkegaard; he even quotes him in the foreword to one of his books.

We had kept up the correspondence for a number of years. Mostly the letters were about Kierkegaard. The tone of his letters was like the tone of his books, personal, friendly, and between the lines you could sense the underlying humor and a certain desperation.

I got the impression of a tormented man who often felt lonely. I suspected I had caught him at a time in his life when he was glad to hear from an admirer who not only lived at a safe distance, but who cycled daily through streets formerly trodden by Soren Kierkegaard.

Salinger wanted to know if any descendants of Kierkegaard's brothers and sisters were still alive. He also hoped I could do him a big favour. Was a certain book about Kierkegaard by one of Kierkegaard's contemporaries, a book containing every bit of contemporary gossip about him, to be found in any of the second-hand bookstores of Copenhagen? I found the book and Salinger thanked me profusely. I wondered how he could understand what was in it.

Salinger was a great writer, no doubt about it. But part of his fascination was the fact that he had rejected what all other writers lap up. He refused to make any kind of comment or statement; he refused to give interviews. As it turned out, the myth of the Greta Garbo of literature, the media-shy poet, had made him a legendary celebrity. I was fascinated by the myth myself.

Over the years I had collected all the bits and pieces of information about him that occasionally dribbled down the wall he had erected between himself and the rest of the world. I was sure no one else in Europe knew as much about Salinger as I did, at least not in Denmark.

‘Are you still in possession of those letters?' asked Art and Rose in unison.

‘Yes,' I replied without hesitation. At the back of my mind though, I was wondering where the letters could be after so much moving from one house to another. Were they stashed away in a box in the attic? I recalled the shared attic in the commune where we used to live in the 70s; whenever people moved out, whether in anger or because they had got divorced or fallen in love or for any other reason, they would freely help themselves. Were my letters from J.D. Salinger languishing in a cardboard box somewhere, yellowed with age, in a damp basement of some unknown fellow commune dweller?

Hell with that, I thought, letters are supposed to be read when you get them. They're personal and the only person they should concern is the recipient.

At this point Art told me how much he was prepared to pay for the letters and I changed my mind.

Rose repeated the amount.

The two Americans stared at me fixedly. I must have looked as if I had gone into shock because Rose wrote down the amount in large figures on a napkin and pushed the napkin towards me.

My initial reaction was that this was some kind of sick joke. Somebody wanted to make fun of me, humiliate me. Or maybe this was some kind of Candid Camera stunt and hidden photographers were filming my facial expression. ‘Hungry author offered bone.'

I stared at the amount jotted on the napkin and kept on staring until my eyelids got so heavy I thought I was going to lose consciousness or simply fall asleep and continue dreaming sweet dreams.

Rose and Art Goldman repeated the amount. When I still didn't react Rose pointed to the napkin where the amount was written.

This was unnecessary; I had understood it first time round.

I had no idea what to say.

Art and Rose looked as though they were prepared for this. They explained they were acting on behalf of an anonymous buyer. The market for letters written by celebrities had exploded in recent years. At the top of the list of letters by literary figures was J.D. Salinger. Number two was Hitler, which surprised me until Art explained that Hitler appeared in several categories including as the author of ‘Mein Kampf'. This information made me feel better. Salinger would enjoy hearing he had beaten the author, Adolf Hitler, when it came to the value of celebrity letters.

I tried to collect my thoughts. Unfortunately they tend to run off in all directions, which is how I earn my living. That's how all writers earn their living so I wouldn't want to change it.

I needed to talk to my wife.

Apart from decisions such as what to have for dinner I talk all decisions over with my wife.

I promised Art and Rose I would get in touch with them as soon as I had consulted my wife.

I biked around town trying to locate her. As far as I could remember she had a workout class and a hairdresser's appointment before going to work. She's a dentist and works on the third floor in a building on the corner of Borgergade and Gothersgade. She was in the middle of a root canal treatment when I burst in.

One of the things she finds most irritating about me is that when I want to talk to her it has to be
now.
She thinks that must be one of the reasons I chose my profession. Writers by definition have to be childish, otherwise they couldn't be writers.

When I told her what had happened though, she pushed her irritation aside. What should I do? I demanded.

‘Nothing,' she replied. ‘Absolutely nothing. If they're interested now they'll be interested tomorrow and in a month from now.'

She went back to her patient and her root canal treatment.

I followed her advice. I biked back to Kongens Nytorv Square and met with Rose and Art at the d'Angleterre. I needed more time to think things over, I said.

They were courtesy itself. They had apparently been prepared for my reaction. What if they invited my wife and me and any of our children who cared to come to New York for a little vacation, they suggested, all expenses paid. We could discuss the situation more thoroughly at our leisure. ‘No obligations,' they emphasized. No matter what I decided regarding the letters the trip would be free.

‘What does your wife say?' asked Rose.

‘It's not so much what she says. It's more what she doesn't say,' I replied.

Rose nodded knowingly. ‘That's what most marriages are like, Dan'.

‘Yes, I'm beginning to think so too.'

‘What about taking her on a little trip?' Rose suggested.

Art Goldman took an envelope out of his jacket pocket and waved it in front of me.

‘Dan, here's a tailor-made credit card just for you issued to my law firm. Buy any kind of plane ticket you like and stay at any hotel you want in New York.'

I opened the envelope. At the top of the credit card stood my name. The card looked as if it was made of pure gold. In the glow of the golden card my thoughts exploded in all directions. I had a vision of myself showing the gold card to my wife and daughters. They couldn't believe it. I saw us walking down the street to the ATM on the corner. Money would pour out of the ATM until we were swimming in it until finally I couldn't swim anymore, I would be drowning in money. In short my brain was behaving like any normal writer's brain; it started working overtime.

When I had come to myself, standing there in the lobby of the d'Angleterre, I hastened to accept. Yes, please.

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