‘My Salinger Year’ validated my larger-than-life dreams of a novelist


Warning: this article contains spoilers.

I was 15 when I finished my first novel. A set of crude words wrapped up in a Word document and a draft that summed up “cringe” as a concept, but a novel nonetheless.

That’s when ambition crept into my head for the first time until it solidified there, stuck for years. I wanted to publish a novel that would hit the bestseller shelves, even going so far as to major in literature in college in the hopes of being one step ahead. I wanted to call myself a bestselling novelist at the age of 17, 18, 20, giving myself excuses over time. The crux of the matter was that I wanted to be exceptional.

But as I came of adulthood, that brand of ambition weakened.

Joanna in “My Salinger Year”

In some ways, the opening lines of Philippe Falardeau’s 2020 film “My Salinger Year” hit me like a rock. The protagonist, Joanna Rakoff (played by Margaret Qualley, inspired by the real-life Joanna Rakoff), faces the camera, addressing an invisible audience with her confessional monologue.

“I loved watching the people around us. They seemed to have interesting lives, ”she says, recounting a moment from her childhood, when she and her father sat in a hotel cafe in New York City. “I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to write novels, speak five languages ​​and travel. I didn’t want to be ordinary. I wanted to be extraordinary.

At the start of the film, we find her in the same city, quite an adult, curled up in the seedy apartment of her best friend and her fiancé. Joanna left the comfort of her California college, leaving her boyfriend and a graduate semester in the process. At one point, she told him on the phone, “I’m sick of analyzing other people’s work. I want to write.

Margaret and Joanna in “My Salinger Year”

And don’t all writers end up as close as possible as tortured artists, typing future masterpieces? She verbalizes the thought, but her actions prove the opposite when she finds herself writing less. Instead, Joanna takes a job at a renowned literary agency, assisting Margaret (Sigourney Weaver), an agent with equally renowned clients, one of them being JD Salinger, “The Catcher in the Rye”, infamous as a hermit JD Salinger.

Her previous intentions and aspirations are gradually put aside, but haunt her in almost every scene. Editing staff with writer-dom desires are shunned, but kept an open secret. Margaret says she doesn’t hire writers because they make ‘the worst helpers’, while stories about the lucky ones are whispered in offices: Employees who have reached the big leagues are that is, people brave enough to go against protocol – simply because that was all they wanted.

Joanna and a portrait of JD Salinger in the agency’s office

The writing frequents Joanna’s thoughts as a lingering threat. Soon her artistic new boyfriend finishes her novel as quickly as they got together, which turns out to be as questionable a manuscript as he is. But there’s Joanna, swept away by the homework that comes with the rigors of adulthood. She writes rejection letters for fans who write to Salinger, a lone author whose fan mail has never been graced by his presence, as he wishes.

Despite this, Salinger – “Jerry” at the agency – becomes the one to bring her back to Dreamland, even though they’ve never really met.

“You are a writer, Joanna, aren’t you?” He asks on the phone when Margaret was indisposed. “Not an agent, not a secretary.”

Joanna is hesitant to label herself one, but she forces a “yes” out of her system. The solution is simple for Salinger.

“So write! ” he says. “Protect this shrine, okay? Don’t get stuck answering the phone. You are a poet.

Joanna in “My Salinger Year”

It’s a point that seems to be the closest thing to a eureka moment for Joanna. In the next scene, she meets New Yorker writers at a party, who offer to watch her material while her boyfriend chats at another table, mocking her favorite section of the magazine. Later, she sits down with Salinger’s words – which she hadn’t done as a non-reader of her works – and finds solace and answers in her characters, like the fans whose fans she shreds. letters.

At the dawn of her success in the literary agency, she quits her job. Margaret has a resigned expression when she says to Joanna, “You have other aspirations.

She leaves and enters New York, the safest she has ever been after answering “Yes”. This is the Joanna from the stories of her monologue, the Joanna who saw the people go by and said “I want to be like them! She’s a Joanna who has been brought back to the dreamer’s realm we so often leave in our own coming-of-age stories.

Joanna in “My Salinger Year”

As we approach age in “My Salinger Year,” the trajectory of adulthood is not one that only progresses. Growing up meant looking back, now packed with the shine of wisdom that coming of age has brought you. Joanna knows things better now, and at that point, she’s brave enough to come to herself.

On the way to my passage to adulthood, ambition dusted off in a corner, abandoned in favor of reality. I apologized to myself, watched the years go by, and somewhere in a file a draft with a set of crude words stands alone. Someday I will come back to this, as my own way of saying “yes”.

“My Salinger Year” was part of QCinema 2021 range online. Watch the trailer below.

Photos from “My Salinger Year”

This story first appeared on scoutmag.ph

Get the latest lifestyle news delivered to your inbox