The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I’ve been putting this review off, because I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. I knew I liked this novel, liked it a lot, but I couldn’t figure out why I liked it. The book has certain traits that, at face value, are going to look like negatives. For one, the drama is so mundane. It’s the tale of several consecutive days in the life of a 1950s boarding school student, right after he gets the news that he has been expelled. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, goes from place to place across New York, meeting various people in an effort to kill time, because he’s determined not to head home and face his parents before they’ve had a chance to hear the bad news and simmer down for a couple of days. Nothing earth-shattering happens during those few days. The highest dramatic point is when Holden foolishly hires a prostitute, then gets bullied by her pimp over payment. Holden isn’t even a particularly likable character at times. By his own admission, he is a habitual liar, and frequently enjoys spinning a yarn to those he converses with.

So, what’s to like? Well, despite Holden’s conversational lying, the narrative itself is brutally honest. It’s written in the first person – Holden writing a journal at the request of a psychiatrist after the events of the novel. The most interesting aspect of the story is in following his state of mind. Holden is both capable of youthful exuberance and depression to the point of wishing for death. I felt he was an honest portrait of the turbulence of teenage life. Although his was a lot more turbulent than mine, I could still relate to some of what I was reading, and I think perhaps that’s where my fascination with this novel lies. There were also some heartwarming moments, particularly the scenes with Holden and his kid sister Phoebe.

I was surprised to learn that The Catcher in the Rye has had a rocky road from its publication in the 1950s to the present day. The book has been banned here and there over the years. I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about. Not only did the book not strike me as harmful, I would go as far as saying that it might be the sort of thing that would help a depressed reader away from a suicidal tendency.

One of my favourite reads of 2007.

5 thoughts on “The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

  1. I once read a rather brilliant review in the Philadelphia Inquirer of the novel in question. I wish I could locate it online; I think it was a few years ago, in celebration of some anniversary or other. The reviewer in question channeled the voice of Holden Caufield to review the book, positing that Caufield or like-minded individuals would be unimpressed by the novel. It ultimately became a sort of metafictional review in which it wasn’t clear whether the reviewer himself (herself?) had actually disliked it or simply done a brilliant job of nailing the mindset of the narrator, who would have.

    To this day, it’s my favorite book review ever.

  2. There is not a lot to like about Holden, except his brutal honesty. In High School, he would have been the guy all the jocks picked on. Am I wrong, or was there a passage about him wanting to kill certain people attending his school? Based on today’s events, that appears to be ominous. Holden seems to express the sentiments of all those who have been, or feel they have been, bullied in their lifetime. Salinger captured that mindset to a T.

  3. Phil Henry says:

    The book was banned primarily because Mark Chapman said it inspired him to shoot John Lennon in 1980. When the cops busted down the door to Chapman’s hotel room they found a heavily underlined copy of the book and “I am Holden Caulfield” written on the title page in Chapman’s handwriting. Apparently Chapman was trying to expose Lennon as a “phoney”, one of Holden’s pet peaves. He said Lennon preached that he was in touch with the common man and empathised with the plight of the man on the street, while living like an emperor in a luxurious penthouse apartment.

    I agree it’s a pretty thin reason to ban a book and there have been far worse books and movies of late, but that’s Americans for you (especially the extreme right); they love to hang the blame for tragedies on art (not the exremely lax gun laws) and they do love burning books.

  4. I didn’t know that story. What a horrific moment in our history!
    On another note,you’ll be amazed at how seriously they take bullying in the middle schools in Michigan. My ten year old daughter was suspended for being a bully when she laughed after a girlfriend of hers knocked down a boy in the playground who stole thier ball. In the meetings with the Principal, it was apparent to me that somewhere in his past, the Principal was heavily bullied. He was very sensitive to the issue.
    It’s not every day your ten year old daughter is accused of being a bully. When I went to school, that lofty position was usually held by the big fat kid who demanded your candy at recess. Though I was on the opposite side of it, I did feel it was good there was focus on bullying as a behavior. It seems in Holden’s case, and in Chapmans, there’s a deep rooted hatred caused by their attackers that festers into violence down the road. Usually that violence targets the innocent. Rarely do you see these type of individuals go after those who have caused them such pain.

  5. jay says:

    they should study in this book in english classes – maybe i would have paid more attention!

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