Twice before, I have opened up a copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and have failed to make it very far into the book. Finally I sat down with it, determined. I don’t know what it is about this novel, but it irritated me that I hadn’t even made it halfway through the book before. It wasn’t even that long! I couldn’t quit this time!
So I began. And this time I finished.
It opens up with this: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”
Okay. Hi there, new friend.
His name is Holden, and he’s just been kicked out of another school. And he’s telling me about it, along with what happens after he leaves said school early. He’s supposed to be home on Wednesday, but he’s not looking forward to his parents’ reaction if he comes home early and tells them what happened with the school, so he just starts wandering New York.
Overall, my response to this novel is very mixed. I’ve read reviews, just in the attempts to try and get my own thoughts to clear up, and it seems like people either love this book or hate it. I’m neither.
I liked it. For what it was, I liked it. I also struggled with it. And Holden…
You have a person in your life who you like, but you’re also easily annoyed by them? You see them around and you’re happy to see them at first, but then they just keep talking and eventually you think: Okay, it’s good talking with you, but don’t you have somewhere else–anywhere else–to be? They’re good in doses, and then you need a break.
But also, if anyone really insulted them, you’d defend them in a heartbeat because you know they’re a good person (so very flawed, but still good), and they don’t deserve to be mistreated.
That’s Holden, for me.
I’ve heard of books where, though the main character isn’t everyone’s favorite, are still popular despite the narrator because of the events of the book. Whether or not the reader likes (and relates to) Holden actually influences whether or not the reader enjoys the book. The reason that is: Holden is the book. The plot is Holden. Whatever happens is directly tied into what Holden wants, what Holden feels, what Holden does. We’re sitting in a car with him, and he’s telling us exactly what happened the way he saw it through his eyes.
And if you don’t like the guy, why in the world would you enjoy being in the car with him, listening to everything he’s got to say until he’s done saying it?
Holden’s a teenage boy who keeps getting kicked out of schools for not really applying himself. Why doesn’t he? Because he finds reasons to hate where he’s at. Everyone’s phony. The boys are mean. He just wants to move on. He gets to ranting about the people around him, and you can’t help but think he’s a little self-centered and much too cynical.
But then there are reasons for that, if you pay enough attention.
I find I can relate to Holden. Not exactly the way others might, but I can, at the very least, sympathize with him. He’s not a happy kid. He’s struggling with the world around him, interacting with people, dealing with depression… His little sister asks him if there’s anything he really likes. And he blames his inability to answer her on his lack of concentration in that moment, but really, he just doesn’t know how to really like anything.
He contradicts himself. He’ll practically be in love with one person in a moment, and then can’t stand being around them the next. He’s very chatty, almost losing you at times. Actually, he defends a boy he once knew at school who was flunking a speech class because he was constantly digressing in his speeches. Holden says he likes when people digress sometimes, and that’s so accurate, because there were plenty of digressions throughout this novel.
What I really liked about the way this was written was how realistic Holden was. His voice–while it wasn’t the smoothest, the prettiest, the most poetic, it was also very true to the character. I could hear this young boy talking to me the entire time, rambling on, complaining, insulting, explaining, reminiscing… While the kid’s a difficult personality, he’s actually one I wouldn’t mind having a conversation with. I might get a little drained from it, but I’d think: He’s not a bad kid. He needs to figure things out, but he’s not a bad kid.
This book has language and a few scenes that might be “offensive”. He meets up with a prostitute (nothing happens between them) and talks about “being sexy” with girls. But I think this book can have value, especially if the reader finds he or she can relate to the narrator.
I applaud Salinger’s ability to write Holden so well, and I’m looking forward to finding more of his work.
While The Catcher in the Rye won’t be among one of my favorite books, I am glad to have read it. And I always believe if you can come away with something after finishing a story, that story wasn’t a waste of time.
WHAT I GOT OUT OF THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
- Salinger’s style of writing for Holden was enjoyable, and it encourages me to improve my own writing abilities with characters’ voices
- Sometimes you’ve just got to write a character that is true–rather than a character that everyone will love
- A lot of people feel lost and depressed when wandering around in their own life–and apparently that has been a true statement for many years
- There is always at least one person who thinks the world of you
- You don’t have to have a complicated plot with twists and turns and hundreds of well-developed side characters. You just need at least one character who has something they want to tell you