The Catcher in the Rye

by J.D. Salinger

Coming off of A Clockwork Orange, I am less than thrilled going in to reading yet another novel about a disaffected boy—especially one that I have read before. (I have to admit that I am noticing an effect whereby—of the books on this list that I have already read—there is sometimes of a loss of appreciation the second time around.) So I am pleasantly surprised when I discover The Catcher in the Rye to be still such a fun book to read.

The thing I remember most from my first reading (about 15 years ago, at least) was that it was the first time I had seen in print the use of italics mid word! J.D. Salinger really captures the cadence of his young protagonist's voice, writing words like: "Jesus," "C'mon," and "finally." In fact there is an overuse of italics in general throughout the book. I think this style of writing is the perfect medium for conveying that omnipresent sense of exaggeration found in teenagers. Salinger has the portrayal of this quality down exactly. Lots of generalities about teenagers haven't changed since the early fifties, when The Catcher in the Rye was written, such as the cadence of their speech, the rejection and/or ridicule of things that seem "phony," and their preoccupation (albeit a tentative & unknowing one) with sex. I think this timelessness is why the book continues to read so well today, over fifty years later. It juxtaposes nicely with the parts of the story that date the book, like phone booths, record albums made out of shellac, and newsreels.

Things lost on me the first time around that I now see? First of all, The Catcher in the Rye is a loving portrayal of midcentury New York City that is not to be missed. Please take heed, Big Apple aficionados: Read this book! Secondly, I think I must've either missed the implication or forgotten that the main character—as he narrates this retrospective—is in a sanitarium. I got that this time around. It's subtle though, and still begs the question: Has Holden been committed for tuberculosis or for an emotional breakdown? (Given the surrounding narrative, both are equally plausible.) This reminds me of that study that shows that if you were to ascribe typical teenage thoughts & feelings to an adult, that adult would likely be diagnosed as schizophrenic. This is also interesting to note in light of the fact that The Catcher in the Rye is often looked upon as being an iconic representation of teenage angst in general. We should probably not lose sight of the fact that what that is saying is that mental illness may indeed be a touchstone of the teenage years! I also noticed, reading it this time, a fairly strong vein of pedophilic undertone. Holden Caulfield dances close with his little sister, pinches her butt, has overly intimate interactions with small children who are strangers to him (not coincidentally, I think, one's fly is down), and finally is seemingly hit on, himself, by a former teacher. Am I wrong here, folks?

I haven't gone into too much of the plot here or even told any would-be readers what this book is about. I'm not sure I have to. The Catcher in the Rye stands alone.