At Home in the World
New York Times bestselling author of Labor Day
With a New Preface
When it was first published in 1998, At Home in the World set off a furor in the literary world and beyond. Joyce Maynard's memoir broke a silence concerning her relationship—at age eighteen—with J.D. Salinger, the famously reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, then age fifty-three, who had read a story she wrote for The New York Times in her freshman year of college and sent her a letter that changed her life. Reviewers called her book "shameless" and "powerful" and its author was simultaneously reviled and cheered.
With what some have viewed as shocking honesty, Maynard explores her coming of age in an alcoholic family, her mother's dream to mold her into a writer, her self-imposed exile from the world of her peers when she left Yale to live with Salinger, and her struggle to reclaim her sense of self in the crushing aftermath of his dismissal of her not long after her nineteenth birthday. A quarter of a century later—having become a writer, survived the end of her marriage and the deaths of her parents, and with an eighteen-year-old daughter of her own—Maynard pays a visit to the man who broke her heart. The story she tells—of the girl she was and the woman she became—is at once devastating, inspiring, and triumphant.
Maynard, novelist (Baby Love; To Die For) essayist, columnist and Web-page chatteuse, was a freshman at Yale in April 1972 when the New York Times Magazine published her cover article, "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life." Of the hundreds of letters she received, one from the reclusive J.D. Salinger, then 53, praising her talent and warning her against the dangers of early success, struck a particular chord. Maynard quickly wrote back and, following a summer of letters, phone calls and visits to Cornish, N.H., she dropped out of Yale and moved in with him. Maynard's observant, straight-faced presentation of what are nonetheless often hilarious events chez Salinger has to be one of the shrewdest deflations of a literary reputation on record. What's plain and most damaging is the nature of Jerry's interest in Joyce, who looked about 11 and who arrived for her first visit in a dress almost identical to one she wore in first grade. Maynard poignantly describes her alienation and isolation, which Salinger reinforced before cruelly discarding her. Unable for legal reasons to quote Salinger's letters, Maynard nevertheless makes the reader see why his words so captivated her: "I fell in love with his voice on the page," she says. Once she moved in, however, Jerry began to sound like an aging Holden Caulfield, abrasive and contemptuous. Maynard takes too long setting up her family history pre-Salinger and far too long recounting her life since, inadvertently revealing why Salinger and others seem to have wearied of her. But her painstaking honesty about herself lends credence to her portrayal of Salinger as something worse than a cranky eccentric. This will be a hard story to ignore. First serial to Vanity Fair.
Thank you Joyce Maynard--this story spoke to me on so many levels. Sorry you had to receive so much vitriol for it.
Just when you thought your family was the most dysfunctional
I felt I should read this book primarily because I was a freshman at Yale the same year Joyce was, even though I have no recollection of ever having met her (there is no question we did not move in the same circles). Her description of the one and only year she spent in New Haven did bring back memories, which I enjoyed reliving. I also thought the book, in general, was well written. But I have to say, the book did remind me that there were an awful lot of very strange people roaming college campuses in those days, and Maynard was certainly one of them. Having become more intimately acquainted with her life and way of thinking through her book, I have to say I no longer have any desire to read any more of her work.
As far as Salinger goes, I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye, and now I don’t consider that to be a bad thing. I’m sure Maynard’s picture of him is somewhat colored by her own lunacy, but anyone who believes the ‘great man’ deserves his privacy is missing the point - borderline pedophilia demands privacy, but doesn’t necessarily warrant it. Had she written the book sooner, many a parent of young girls would have slept easier in New England for it.