Looking for something to read?
For this reader, the great achievement of Slawenski’s biography is its evocation of the horror of Salinger’s wartime experience. Despite Salinger’s reticence, Slawenski admirably retraces his movements and recreates the savage battles, the grueling marches and frozen bivouacs of Salinger’s war. It’s hard to think of an American writer who had more combat experience. He landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Slawenski reports that of the 3,080 members of Salinger’s regiment who landed with him on June 6, 1944, only 1,130 survived three weeks later. Then, when the 12th Infantry Regiment tried to take the swampy, labyrinthine Hürtgen Forest, in what proved to be a huge military blunder, the statistics were even more horrific. After reinforcement, “of the original 3,080 regimental soldiers who went into Hürtgen, only 563 were left.” Salinger escaped the deadly quagmire of Hürtgen just in time to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, and shortly thereafter, in 1945, participated in the liberation of Dachau. “You could live a lifetime,” he later told his daughter, “and never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose.”
Jake Plummer never went to Tampa Bay, of course, just as he never offered his services to any other NFL team. Upon retiring in March 2007, he held a press conference at the Denver Athletic Club. Grasping a lectern, he told a crowd of reporters that he was "running away from the game" but not in "fear or fright." He credited his teammates for his success, invoked his friend Pat Tillman and pointed to his chest and promised that "there will not be a jersey with an NFL patch here." He said he was excited to move on and "take on new challenges," because "life is grand, life is exciting." Then, without taking questions, Plummer bid goodbye and walked down the hall to play a doubles handball match with his brother Eric.
"Mr Willoughby, your son Jossie is a low-functioning autistic. He will never have a normal life."
These words were issued by a serious-minded woman in the equally austere setting of a London clinic. It was January, 2008, but the sights, sounds and smells will stay with me forever.
I looked sideways at Janet. Her face seemed to reflect the way mine probably now appeared. I felt terror, fear, helplessness.
And something had been making it worse. Jossie was two years and one month then, but I had always known there was a problem. I saw it in his face the moment he was handed to me in hospital.
But I never said a word. Not to Janet, not to my parents, not to anyone. For every few minutes of every day for two years, I desperately tried to make the whole thing go away.
Like a fool, I sought alternative explanations and abandoned common sense. But I was constantly reminded of my folly: the way his eyes didn’t meet with mine; the way he didn’t seem to react to his sister’s prompts to learn; the way he did not indulge himself with imaginary play.