Their single, short interaction—we learn, later, that it only lasted half an hour—somehow contains enough connection for a lifetime. Take some of what you can, of course. Homes explored her own relationship to Salinger—the strange coincidences tying his work to her life, her brief, disappointing brush with the real-life author, and how she ultimately learned to let him go. So we changed The Catcher in the Rye to a fictional book called Life in the Outfield, and made a few other small adjustments. Our most important meetings happen, often, only at the corner.
How do you work with that disappointment and make it into something else? But at that point, it had been already written about in The Washington Post and other local papers, so everybody knew what it was. Take some of what you can, of course. And it was impossible not to feel addressed by The Catcher in the Rye when it shared such a close detail with my own my life. We can love this book without needing to hero-worship the man, or driving up to his house in New Hampshire to try and befriend him the way people used to do. A funny, Salinger-esque detail that nobody knows is that I skipped the opening night of the play. The play was titled The Call-In Hour, and was staged like a call-in radio show. There have been other points of connection. I had an older brother who died before I was born. Like the characters in my story—who never meet but only connect through words exchanged in a chat room—we typically engage with our favorite authors only through limited encounters with the writing itself. His message to listeners was that other people needed to do that, too. He and the other guys in his military unit are all loners, spending their time writing longhand letters to people back home, and only talking to each other when they have to. I had to make him see that. Their single, short interaction—we learn, later, that it only lasted half an hour—somehow contains enough connection for a lifetime. We already have The Catcher in the Rye. It was a super practical decision that just killed me. Unarticulated grief was a key part of my childhood. And as a young person, I was stunned to encounter the part in The Catcher in the Rye where Holden Caulfield talks about his dead brother and the baseball mitt he left behind. Part of it, too, is the way he often breaks from the action to talk directly, informally to the reader. To me, it was interesting and heartbreaking that they both went to a place, this budgie chat room. And I was trying to say: They were both in uncomfortable situations where they had no sense of agency, and their brief moment of connection helped to make things better. I was so shy at that point in my life. And yet their words have the power to change us anyway. I badly wanted a letter back from Salinger—something to prove the connection I felt to his work was as profound and extraordinary as I suspected. Our lives meet in these oblique, indirect ways.
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