Wondering when is it the right time to execute the inevitable end of the road strategy
No one is better qualified to judge the moment than the person making the decision
World Championship gold medallist Rob Heffernan listed off at least six reasons why he’s anything but finished.
There are lots of good reasons why JD Salinger retired at 46. Some we already know, others presented in the daring new documentary Salinger, which only naturally also comes in book form.
The documentary airs on PBS in January, the book is already out – all 698 pages of it. For anyone who has ever enjoyed his 1951 gem The Catcher in the Rye (65 million books already sold, 250,000 books still printed every year), Salinger will not disappoint, as if old Holden Caulfield himself had played some hand in it. It both deconstructs and at the same time magnifies the Salinger myth, especially when it comes to his decision not to publish anything past his 1965 novella, Hapworth 16, 1924, even though he lived to the ripe old age of 91, dying at his remote home in Cornish, New Hampshire, in 2010.
What the documentary suggests, amongst many other things, is that Salinger timed his retirement very deliberately, so that by being invisible to the public, he could be everywhere in the public imagination. The fact he was born with only one testicle, although a mild deformity, also influenced his decision to avoid any further media glare, and with that the likelihood this information about his anatomy would emerge.
Yet perhaps the overriding reason why Salinger retired at 46 was the simple realisation that his best work was already done, and rather than risk rejection with his inevitable decline, his exit strategy was decided exclusively on his own terms. We know he continued to write until his death, some of it due for publication in instalments starting between 2015 and 2020 – and that might ultimately prove whether or not Salinger was truly finished at 46. Either way his legacy now is untouchably safe.
The top table
I finished Salinger the night before the National Athletics Awards, on Wednesday, and was promptly reminded of it while observing the top table: there sat Rob Heffernan, alongside fellow World champion Eamonn Coghlan and Olympic champion Ronnie Delany, still wonderfully living up to his sporting immortality.
Indeed both Coghlan and Delany have retained an almost equally strong athletics legacy, despite their contrasting exit strategies: Delany, Olympic champion in 1956 at just 21, soon recognised his own inevitable decline, and hampered by injury at the 1960 Olympics, retired a year later – at 26 – never again running competitively, or indeed for pleasure: Coghlan, after finishing fourth in both the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, eventually struck gold at the 1983 World Championships, at 30, yet wasn’t as quick to recognise his decline, continuing on to the 1988 Olympics, before finally realising it. Then five years later, sensing his moment of retirement was somehow premature, Coghlan made a comeback, and in 1994 became the first man over 40 to run a sub-four minute mile - before promptly retiring again, this time for good.