I didn’t know much about Maynard with the exception that she had written for The New York Times, “An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life”, during her first year at Yale. I also knew that essay inspired J. D. Salinger to correspond with her. After a series of letters, they met, and shortly thereafter she moved in with him. At the time, Salinger was 53.
At the reading, she mentioned At Home in the World: A Memoir and her relationship with J.D. Salinger. As much as I enjoyed reading The Catcher in the Rye, I don’t believe I would have liked Salinger. His comments—as if they were plucked from The Narcissist’s Handbook on How to be Cruel and Dismissive—were similar to what I was told by the men in my life.
Maynard’s relationship with Salinger only lasted about nine months. While vacationing in Daytona Beach, he told her to fly back to his house in Cornish, New Hampshire, to pack up her things, and be gone by the time he and his children returned.
It was a heavy blow for Maynard, but she managed to move on in spite of having Salinger on her mind and the desire to see him. After several years of not having any contact with Salinger, Maynard, who was writing At Home in the World at the time, decided to confront him on the eve of her forty-fourth birthday with the question, “What was my purpose in your life?”
His response was hostile; insulting her, saying she had an inflated notion of herself and her writing. He went on to tell her that her problem was that she loved the world too much, adding that he had known she would never amount to much. At the end, Maynard tells him good-bye and finally gets Jerry Salinger out of her system.
Critics and readers gutted Maynard for writing so openly about her relationship with Salinger, saying she didn’t respect his privacy. From my perspective, Maynard wrote with honesty. She finally was able to let go of a man who caused her more harm than good.
Maynard’s confrontation with Salinger inspired me to confront a former beau. Although I have no intention to travel cross-country and knock on his door as she did, I’m tempted to write a letter with the questions, “Why couldn’t you accept me as I was? Why did I have to change?”
While I mentally drafted the letter, I had an “aha” moment: I didn’t care. His response no longer mattered because he didn’t matter.
At Home in the World helped me come to the realization that what men have said to me carries no weight and can’t hurt me. I’m free of the petty remarks and I’ve finally let go because I have better things to do.