Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Catcher in the Rye

by JD Salinger

That Holden Caulfield, he just kills me. And he's certainly no phony.
A mistake when reviewing a book is to wait a bit after reading it, since in my case, it means I've forgotten a lot of amusing turns of phrase. Things that kill him and how phony just about everything is sticks with you, though.

Thus, since I am prevented from wittily writing in a faux-Holden voice, I guess I must constrain myself to what I actually think.
The first thing that comes to mind after reading it is, sadly, "why the hell would you kill someone having this book in your pocket?" and then you're suddenly restricted to giving your opinion in some sort of opposition to someone else's interpretation. Very sad.

The Catcher in the Rye appeals to me greatly. It tells the story of Holden Caulfield, told by the same, as he moves through life the days after his latest expulsion, how he treats other people, exposes them as phonies and his denunciations of the world at large.
What makes it compelling is that it is written directly as Holden Caulfield. It doesn't veer away and doesn't offer alternative views except by the way he re-tells it. It's Holden's thoughts completely uncensored by anyone other than Holden himself.
And because of that, the rather poor vocabulary and repetition of phrases feel genuine rather than a mark of shoddy writing, which it would otherwise have felt like, because he really is SUCH a teenager.

Now, the default mode of a teenager is to be confused, at odds with society and a bit askew, but Holden really does take the cake. He is almost completely unsympathetic as a character, is completely wrong about pretty much everything he encounters, seems to have far more affectations than any of the phonies he encounters and is also rather paranoid. And the fact that we can read that out of an account given by the book's storyteller, while he simultaneously is obviously unaware of the fact that he's doing it makes the book enjoyable to me. Most likely because resentful young man is quite common on certain parts of the internet, and they're usually self-aggrandizing, so reading a book that in my mind rather deftly eviscerates such a person is rather rewarding. It might just be that I'm a very small person. And to balance that I would like to point out that I don't think the authour harbours any ill will towards Holden, and the book does end with him being caught before he leaps off the cliff he so headlessly rushes towards.

Another thing that comes to mind is that I can imagine that this is pretty much the perfect book for junior high or high school, considering it gives so many opportunities to analyse a person and his thought patterns and his relationship to other youths, adults, and society at large, opening up for debates on the book. That still doesn't get past the hurdle of making students 1) read and 2) opening their mouth in class, but maybe I'm a bit pessimistic.

So, in summary, it's a decent book, which has probably gotten way too much attention for the wrong things. It's not the book I would put in my coat pocket if I decided to do something extravagant, that's for sure.

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