Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Pollux writes:

For many, J.D. Salinger’s short story “Hapworth 16, 1924” is a story that one feels obliged to read, if only to see what all the fuss is about. It certainly makes easier reading than Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, but for readers looking for structure and narrative, Hapworth may be a disappointment.

Nevertheless, Hapworth remains an object of wonder, due to the fact that it is the last piece of work that Salinger published. Its aura is increased by its inaccessibility in print, although if you have access to The New Yorker Digital Reader, you may read it in full in the June 19, 1965 issue. Just log in, turn the digital pages to page 33, and smile at the 1960s ads for booze, vacation spots, and Woody Allen’s “laugh record” (Volume 2).

Salinger’s deal with Orchises Press to publish Hapworth collapsed like a pack of cards.

Whither Hapworth? For fun, I’ve given myself the difficult and unsanctioned assignment of trying to adapt Hapworth for the screen.

As this piece in Slate points out, adapting any work by Salinger is an impossibility due to legal and artistic difficulties (although an undercurrent of Salinger-like characters and inspiration has existed in American cinema since the publication of Catcher in the Rye).

How should I adapt Hapworth? Beads of sweat roll down my forehead.

Like Nicolas Cage’s character in Adaptation, I feel that coffee and a muffin may help me write, but then again, I could reward myself with those items after I do some solid writing. I need to get to work.

Where does one begin?


The BUNGALOW is sparsely furnished and decorated, save for some PRINTS on the wall that feature, in turn, Tolstoy, the Hindu goddess Gāyatrī, Cervantes, Balzac, and Flaubert.

Below the prints, we see SEYMOUR, a boy of seven. He scribbles furiously on sheets of lined paper. Suddenly, he stops and picks up the last part of the letter. He reads aloud from it.

Please, please PLEASE do not grow impatient and ice cold to this letter because of its gathering length!

SEYMOUR chuckles.

Or else we start with Buddy Glass:


Sounds of a typewriter fill the room. PAN on BUDDY GLASS, typing. He is typing up the contents of an old, hand-written letter. An opened envelope, with a “Registered Mail” slip, sits on his desk.

PAN on the letter, the beginning of which reads: “Dear Bessie, Les, Beatrice, Walter, and Waker:…” CUT TO:

The exterior of CAMP SIMON HAPWORTH. A Maine forest.

But these points of entry may be suffering from the phoniness or mawkishness that Salinger may have despised. Finding the right child actor may also pose some difficulties. A child actor appearing in a Salinger adaptation? Whoever it would be would become an instant celebrity. The actor would become a new Seymour Glass in his own right, suffering and benefiting from the effects of instant fame.

As Emdashes editor Martin Schneider points out, Salinger may have been the first American writer in the postwar era to explore the issues of fame and celebrity. The Glass Family siblings were celebrities who gained their fame as a result of appearing in a radio program called “It’s a Wise Child.”

Perhaps we should use a succession of child actors to play Seymour Glass, from scene to scene. Perhaps we should not use live actors at all.

“Hapworth 16, 1924” may be best adapted as a stop-motion film or a film with Japanese shadow puppets.

Camp Hapworth. Day. Several small boys, including SEYMOUR GLASS, push a cart out of the mud. They are encouraged in this exercise by MR. HAPPY.

In the car afterwards, a clay-mation (or puppet) Seymour says to a clay-mation (or puppet) Mr. Happy: “We are fairly talented singers and dancers, sir, though amateurs. If I lose my leg to gangrene, I will suggest that my father sue you. Nevertheless, since this situation is so risible, I tend to bleed less profusely, so no harm done.”

Alas, we may never see a film version or a version of Hapworth in the Indonesian shadow puppetry of Wayang, which Salinger may have loved. Or how about The Glass Family Cartoon, as I imagined in the drawing above?

One can dream. All this is pure experimentation and speculation, but in experimenting and speculating, we honor the author and honor the work.


The end of this POST.


Love it! Picture me about thirteen years ago, poring over a photocopy of “Hapworth” copied from one of the rare issues of The New Yorker at the public library that didn’t have that story ripped out of it. And reading the whole, long, convoluted thing!

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