Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

"I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, 'If a body catch a body coming through the rye.' He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing, 'If a body catch a body coming through the rye.' It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more." page 115

Holden Caufield is troubled. He's a 16 year old New Yorker with a distinctly cynical take on the world who just wants someone to talk to, yet no one will listen. He tries talking to friends, teachers, perfect strangers and all brush him off without a thought. He wanders around New York after getting kicked out of school, getting into unique situations and trying to figure out his life. Often noted as 'the' coming of age story, "The Catcher in the Rye" brings the reader back to a time when everything was life and death and you knew everything there was to know.

This is a book that people either love or hate. There's little room for fence sitting. I'm sure that's because this book reads much like a teenager thinks, all raging, ecstatic and confused. Caufield's voice is unique but grating. His observations about human nature are raw and insightful but most of the time all you want to do is give him a good shake. On the one hand you feel for him because he just wants to talk to someone about the ducks on the pond. The one person he does find to listen to him turns into a creep, leaving Caufield with more questions than answers.

One of the things I liked most about the book was the fullness of it. Salinger packed the story full of details, odd characters and wonderful dialogue, especially whatever spouted out of Caufield's mouth. His talk was annoying but refreshing. The diction is somewhat archaic though, using words like "prince" and "chewed the rag", creating some distance between the story and reader.

The interesting part comes upon a deeper or second reading of the book. The reader sees that there is a Caufield that the story is about and a Caufield that is telling the story. Occasionally you see him slipping into a more adult voice, acting like an adult, nostalgic for the past and noticing the march of time. We see his red hat as a sort of safety blanket, connecting him to his brother Allie and how his alienation from others leaves little stability in his life (ie getting kicked out of school).

I personally found Caufield an almost wholly unlikeable character save for his interactions with his little sister. At most he's a walking contradiction. He's always doing nice things for people like doing their homework but ends up calling them phonies. He says he isn't literate and yet mentions reading several classics like "David Copperfield", "Return of the Native" and "Hamlet". He doesn't like phonies, constantly pointing out various people within the book that he hates because they are so and yet he freely admits that he's a liar. Thoreau said people often lead lives of quiet desperation but not Caufield. He says what he's thinking or at least lets the reader know and doesn't stick around when he thinks something's lousy.

Rating: 3/5


mister anchovy said...

It's been a long time since I read this book, and your review has reminded me perhaps it is time to give it a re-read. My favourite of Salinger's books is Franny and Zooey.

kamagra said...

It is a critique of family, friends, teachers, and essentially, human flaw and the struggle to accept it.

theduckthief said...

Yes, it's interesting to see how Holden says everyone else is a phony when there are many things he flat out lies about. He's stuck in the between of child and adult and trying to live with it.