Reviews||

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

14th Jul 2014

★★★★
My Salinger Year
Joanna Rakoff won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers and the Elle Readers’ Prize for her first novel, A Fortunate Age. My Salinger Year is her second novel, a memoir which beautifully evokes the literary world of 1990s New York.

My Salinger Year tells the story of Rakoff’s first job as a literary assistant to the agency representing J.D. Salinger, a client whose soaring popularity resulted in vast, unmanageable amounts of fan mail; a wide-ranging and endless storm of emotionally-charged letters that Rakoff was tasked with answering.

Rakoff’s job was rooted in administration and appeasing her boss, a dynamic character who fiercely resisted the digital age and guarded her most important client from his abundant fans.

In a sense, the detail of Rakoff’s job is relatively mundane and centres around her daily administration battles with the Selectric, her lowly lunches and decrepit flat, but in this writer’s hands, the mundane is compelling.

The language has a refreshing sense of sincerity, and the clarity with which she describes her environment and the people in it - the dimly-lit offices and the over-flowing bookshelves - is striking. The language has a refreshing sense of sincerity, and the clarity with which she describes her environment and the people in it – the dimly-lit offices and the over-flowing bookshelves – is striking. You can genuinely feel the shifting tensions of day-to-day life at the Agency.

My Salinger Year is very much a coming-of-age memoir; while on the surface, we are the witness to our narrator’s negotiation of the challenges in her new job, essentially we watch her develop her own identity as a writer and overcome the grief of lost love.

It is Salinger himself that acts as a catalyst for Rakoff’s self-development. Her relationship with his fan mail initially paves the way for her embrace of womanhood, and to the commitment of seeing herself as a writer.

Later, the poignant portrayal of her relationship with Salinger’s work is life-affirming, a tribute to beautifully reflected story-telling as a powerful component of the human condition.

The inner tensions are depicted with such tenderness and the exploration and acknowledgement of literature as healing and transformative is deeply touching.

Secondary characters form a colourful backdrop to the Rakoff’s metamorphosis, feeding in and out of the narrative subtly which centralises ideas about the isolating nature of growth.

The Agency staff are clearly defined, each providing the young assistant with a different life-lesson. The novel cleverly investigates the consequences of experiencing the self in transformation, demonstrating the ways in which relationships both romantic and platonic, must adjust, evolve and restructure to survive.

My Salinger Year is a joy to read. Rakoff is a very special writer and this is a genuinely moving exploration of our relationship with work, men, literature and most crucially, the self.