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100 Books in a Year: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

By Sabrina | Books | April 14, 2009 | Comments ()

By Sabrina | Books | April 14, 2009 |


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Salinger has done it again. A quick read that has me stumped as to my ultimate reaction. After I read Franny and Zooey, I knew I would have to get around to The Catcher in the Rye and evaluate Salinger on his most famous work. I feel accomplished for having read it -- another classic I can say I've completed -- and I mostly enjoyed reading it, but I felt like I was missing the point. I don't understand what about the novel has made it so widely celebrated. Was it the cynical, apathetic narration? It's definitely not for the beautiful language. While Franny and Zooey had numerous phrases that I could appreciate on their own merits, Salinger's narration as Holden Caulfield is much more utilitarian, and the plot isn't exactly a gripping, thrills-a-minute ride. He just meanders around New York, wasting money on hotel rooms, cab rides, and non-hookers.

I do appreciate that Holden doesn't magically grow up by the end of the book. That's a manifestation of the cynical nature of the book -- people don't change -- but at least it kept it from becoming a sappy eye-groaner. Salinger also has a knack for quickly and effectively sketching characters who feel real, even characters that only show up for a few pages, like Luce, Holden's old Student Adviser who deigns to meet him for a drink, or Lillian Simmons, his brother's "phony" ex who runs into him at a piano bar.

One thing I don't quite understand is the "cult of Caulfield" that apparently exists. I think he's an intriguing character, but how anybody could read this book and think, "That is the person I want to be" is beyond me, and that's coming from someone who spent years being cynical and apathetic. Being that way SUCKS, and it was mostly because I was fucking depressed. Holden doesn't enjoy anything. He's perceptive, but doesn't care about anything (aside from his younger siblings). He's not even actively rebelling against anything. He doesn't give enough of a shit to rebel. He's all about avoidance -- avoidance of schoolwork, of his family, of responsibilities in general. Maybe I should've read this during my depressed years and given myself a better shot at connecting with the character, but I kept wanting to yell at him, "So work with kids if you care so much about protecting them!" I recognize the hypocrisy of that coming from an unemployed college dropout who also tries to avoid schoolwork and family, but there you are. It's frustrating to read about someone else who doesn't care that he doesn't care while knowing that real people think that's cool.

I'm sure those ever-present English majors can provide endless reasons as to why the book is so appreciated and why I'm a dunderhead, and that really is good, because I've spent too many years away from English classes. I honestly believe I would've gotten much more out of Catcher if I had read it in a class and spent more time analyzing it as a piece of literature. Instead, I'm left underwhelmed and with some too-late insight into the boy who lent it to me.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here. And check here for more of Sabrina's reviews.


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