From the author who penned the classic teen angst novel The Catcher in the Rye, we have nine short stories collected in one volume. The stories are univerally domestic in nature, mostly consisting of conversations between regular people. They are saved from being boring by their sheer oddness, with titles like “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” and “For Esme – With Love and Squalor.” The characters often possess eccentric traits, and Salinger tells their stories with an edgy realism devoid of any melodrama. The downfall of the stories is that most of them are anticlimactic, ending on a note that leaves the reader unsatisfied, and more than once confused. Either that, or I’m just thick.
Admittedly, the sheer oddness (yet believability) of the stories sometimes made them stick in the mind long after reading, as I pondered “What the hell was that all about?” My favourites were “The Laughing Man,” a tale about a boy scout leader who tells a ongoing saga to his boys on the bus about a disfigured superhero of sorts; and “Teddy,” the story of a ten-year-old boy who possesses a spirituality beyond his years.
All things considered, though, this was a book that I found more tiresome than enjoyable.
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.