Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

My thoughts:
This is going to be a short review because, frankly, I don't quite know what to say.  Someone may call me out for saying this, but I can't help but wonder why this book is so touted.  I admit that Holden Caulfield is a unique and entertaining character.  I couldn't help but smile and chuckle every time he said "crumby" or "phoney" or "goddam" for the hundredth time.  But as I read, I started to notice that Holden seems very dissatisfied with everything and everyone around him.  Like his sister says, "You don't like anything that happens."  I started to form an impression that Holden is bipolar.  He certainly has some kind of mental disturbance going on with himself which I think stems from the loss of his younger brother to cancer.  Back then, there really wasn't so much openness toward mental illness.  And people didn't yet understand the effects of a death in the family on a young child and that said child might need counseling to help him/her deal with the loss.  Holden needed that kind of help and when he didn't get it, he blasted the world, so to speak.  But I think his 'dislike' of everything is really him reflecting his despair on the world.  There is also a part toward the end where sexual abuse is alluded to and that could also be at play in Holden's character and his behavior.

In all, I would have to say that the book is a great character study, but I was expecting it to be much better.

About the book:
Anyone who has read J.D. Salinger's New Yorker stories ? particularly A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, The Laughing Man, and For Esme ? With Love and Squalor, will not be surprised by the fact that his first novel is fully of children. The hero-narrator of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children's voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden's voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep. (from Goodreads)

Reading Challenges



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  1. i like your assessment of HOlden. I'll admit that when I read it as a kid i liked it but that was in the 80s when excess was the norm. Recently rereading Franny & Zoey I was disappointed by how much I didn't get much of Salinger. I guess there's a time and a place for these things and maybe the time has passed.

    p.s. I vote for PTSD.

  2. I have never read this book for the simple fact I've never been that interested by it. Then I had a few people say I have to read it. Now I have you writing this review, and I'm thinking my initial thought processess weren't too far off.

  3. It's interesting that you start by saying you're not sure why the book is so touted, then go on to analyze it (and I agree with much of your analysis about Holden's personality), but don't connect the two; much of why the book is so loved and devoured by readers (teenagers in particular) is because it is so fatalistic and despondent. Holden is absolutely, definitely NOT happy - he's the original angsty teenager and his personality actually reflects the time period ...

    Unfortunately, I think a lot of people focus on what's "wrong" with Holden and how big his "attitude problem," is, but not enough on the reasoning behind it (although you're on to some of it, considering his family background). Think about the time period - the Cold War, Communism ("The Red Scare") Black Listing, Prosecuting Teachers for exposing students to "Subversive" material, putting Lucille Ball on trial, etc.

    I wrote a lengthier analysis of Holden in a blog post ("A Dark Day, Remembered: 1/27/2010") which is a bit more structured and detailed, in case anyone is interested.

    My literary pseudonym is inspired by Salinger, so I can't help but put my two cents in whenever this discussion is taking place & I happen to stumble across it.

    Good luck with the rest of the Classics Challenge! I've only completed 1 of 50 so far... but I've got 5 years. :P

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