Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Old Holden. He Kills Me. He Really Does.

The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger

The death of J.D. Salinger a few weeks ago, at the age of 91, prompted me to get out my old copy of The Catcher in the Rye. I had not read it since high school, and had forgotten most of it. I did, however, remember that I had liked it, and I think I appreciated it more this second time around. Holden Caulfield has to be one of the most realistic literary characters ever created. I remember hearing that the novel was loosely autobiographical, and that Salinger struggled a lot as a teen and young adult.

Holden definitely has his favorite catchphrases (see my title), and Salinger drives that point home in a way that borders on the annoying, except it is so dead accurate. The phrases change from one generation to the next, but all adolescents through young adults have hackneyed sayings that they, like, almost cannot get through a sentence without, like, saying. Beneath Holden's vernacular is a spirit crying to be noticed, longing to connect with other people but so afraid of being rejected that he pushes people away before they can turn away from him. Holden also has noticed the amount of pretending that most of us do, which he acknowledges in his universal condemnation of "the phonies." Reading his story again reminded me to be a little more patient with teens' angst and seeming apathy. Sometimes they are just expressing what a lot of us think but do not have the courage to say out loud. Often they are doing the best they can to figure out how to live and love in this world. I hope I remember Holden when my boys get to be teenagers.

This is one of those books that should be in my canon of being re-read every few years. There are sentences that capture the isolation of adolescence so well that they bring tears to my eyes. Yes, Holden is profane and dishonest and self-indulgent and (occasionally) offensive. He also is (at least for the three days that the novel covers) wasting his potential. But what Salinger did so brilliantly was to make us like Holden in spite of all that, and to identify with his pain. I wish Salinger had written a sequel - it would be nice to find out what happened to this sensitive and misguided young man.

Salinger is rumored to have died with quite a bit of unpublished writing in his file cabinets. Is it possible that Holden's fate may be revealed to us? We can only hope.

Reverent Reader


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