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J. D. Salinger’s Women


When Maynard came home for the summer, they continued their correspondence. After they had exchanged about 25 letters, Maynard went to Cornish to see Salinger. Then, instead of returning to Yale for her sophomore year, she moved in with Salinger. “Her father was furious,” says a friend of the Maynard family, “not only because she was living with J. D. Salinger but, on a more practical level, because she had dropped out of college. He always thought she had the potential to write literature. He didn’t want her to sell out.”

No doubt Maynard must have felt she was fulfilling her father’s dreams, for during the fall and on into the winter, while she lived with Salinger, who worked regularly on writing he did not intend to publish, Maynard herself worked on a memoir called Looking Back, a book based on her Times Magazine cover story. One highlight of the long winter was the trip Salinger and Maynard made into Manhattan when, one day, Salinger bought her a coat and then took her to lunch to meet his friend William Shawn.

Mostly, Maynard and Salinger stayed in Cornish and wrote. When they were not working, Maynard puttered around the house, which she later described as being furnished in a “pedestrian” fashion. Salinger liked to lecture her on the advantages of homeopathic medicine and on Zen Buddhism.

The sex life of Maynard and Salinger, Maynard has told people, consisted only of oral sex. The arrangement was Maynard’s decision rather than Salinger’s. Even then, however, one of Maynard’s life ambitions was to have a family, but Salinger had made it clear that he had no intentions of having any more children, and the issue became a source of contention between them over the winter. Finally, in the late spring, when the couple traveled to Florida on a vacation, the conflict reached a breaking point. They were lounging on the beach when Salinger finally gave her his own unqualified answer: If that’s what she wanted, then their relationship was over. When they got back to Cornish, she should move her things out. It was at this point, as Maynard later described it to a friend, that she stood up from the beach, brushed the sand off her arms and legs, and left. Her affair with Salinger was over. It had lasted ten months.

The grey-haired man turned his head again toward the girl, perhaps to show her how forbearing, even stoic, his countenance was.
--Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes”

In 1981, the actress Elaine Joyce was working on a short-lived television series called Mr. Merlin when she received an interesting piece of mail. The widow of singer Bobby Van, Joyce was 36 at the time. The letter was from J. D. Salinger. “I was doing a series,” says Joyce, “and he wrote me a letter. I get fan mail all the time, but I was shocked. I really didn’t believe it. It was a letter of introduction to me about my work.” Joyce responded, just as Maynard had; and in this case, as well, a sustained correspondence followed. “It took me forever,” she says, “but I wrote back, and then we wrote to each other quite a bit.” As he had with Maynard, Salinger eventually arranged for the two of them to meet, and they began a relationship. The couple spent a lot of time in New York. “We were very, very private,” Joyce admits, “but you do what you do when you date -- you shop, you go to dinner, you go to the theater. It was just as he wanted it.” The only real suggestion the public had that the two were involved occurred in May 1982, when the press reported that Salinger showed up for an opening night at a dinner theater in Jacksonville, Florida, where Joyce was appearing in the play 6 Rms Riv Vu. But to conceal their affair, Joyce denied knowing him. “We were involved for a few years all the way through the middle eighties,” Joyce says. “You could say there was a romance.”

That romance ended in the late eighties when Salinger met Colleen O’Neill, a young woman from New Hampshire who was the director of the annual Cornish town fair. “Jerry used to come and walk around the fairgrounds with her,” says Burnace Fitch Johnson, a former Cornish town clerk. “Colleen would have to repeat things to him when people spoke to him, because he’s quite deaf.”

Their relationship developed to the point where, as of 1992, when the New York Times ran a story about a fire at Salinger’s house, the reporter identified Colleen as being “his wife.” She was also, according to the newspaper, “considerably younger than her husband.”

Johnson confirms that, as of today, the couple has been “married for about ten years.” Since 1992, at least as far as public surfacings are concerned, the Salingers have remained in seclusion -- until Joyce Maynard, that ghost from the past, celebrated her 44th birthday last year by showing up on their doorstep.

As for Maynard, since 1973, she has published her books and married an artist, Steve Bethel, with whom she had the children she wanted so badly (a daughter and two sons). In 1989, her marriage having failed, she set out on what would end up being for her, as she called it, a “many-years-long search for true love, while engaged in raising kids.” This search included a six-month love affair with a musician, followed by a period during which she had casual sexual flings with a number of men.

“Fifteen minutes into our first date,” one of these men says, “Joyce kept referring to this guy named Jerry. She was talking about ‘Jerry this’ and ‘Jerry that.’ It was as though they still knew each other. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the Jerry she was talking about was J. D. Salinger.

“Joyce,” he continues, “is the most self-obsessed person I’ve ever met. She gives narcissism a bad name.”

One morning, Maynard let him read her cache of Salinger letters. On a number of occasions, she discussed how she would never write about Salinger, out of respect for his privacy. One story Maynard told him spoke to the very nature of Salinger’s personality, his saga, and the kind of life he may have lived -- and the number of women he was involved with -- once he and Maynard broke up. One time, Maynard was at a literary dinner party in Manhattan years after her affair with Salinger had ended. At this dinner party, Maynard told her friend, were two women writers about her age, X and Y, who did not like her. Maynard offered a passing veiled reference to Salinger that X and Y overheard. Then X made a comment to Y loud enough for Maynard to hear. “You know,” X said to Y, “I have a cache of Salinger letters, too.”


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