Monday, January 25, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger's seminal novel The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most famous and most taught books in the American school system, and also one of its most widely challenged, for its consistent usage of foul language and less desirable encounters that parents would rather not expose their children to. I'm not really sure I agree with the challengers, since I wouldn't want my kids to read the book simply because it's 200-plus pages with its decidedly unpleasant 16-ish narrator Holden Caulfield taking us through his few days between getting kicked out of school, and returning to home for the holidays and facing his parents with the news of yet another expulsion. On the way he berates people for being "phony" (in his head mostly, through the extensive narration), drinks and smokes too much, curses like he's just discovered swearing and wants to break the words in, is depressed about random things, and gets excited and happy about equally random things. Honestly, the book could've been called The Spoiled Little Rich Bastard Who Bitches About Shit for 200 Pages, and described its contents pretty accurately.

Maybe it's because I wasn't an angst filled teen like Holden is, but I found him monotonous and supremely boring as a character. He's the perfectly written embodiment of said type of teen, but that doesn't make him any more interesting as our guide through this story. It's a painfully repetitive take on a character, even if it is an accurate representation of many kids of that age. Holden, and therefor the novel, gets a bit more poetic as the story comes to a close and he's forced to face life a little bit more, which is nice. But ultimately it's too little too late. I understand that there are many interpretations of what Holden says and the situations he gets himself into, but I find myself glad to be rid of him and his dourness. I don't want to delve more into what I read, because that would mean spending more time with the book, and I don't want to.

On a bit of a positive note, I like the talent Salinger has with dialog (he's not Elmore Leonard or anything, but he's got something good going), even if every character but Holden's sister Phoebe and former teacher Mr. Antolini all sound the same. Holden certainly is memorable, and I can see how the interpretability of the novel appeals to teachers (as well as letting them show their students something that they might like, you know, themselves) but I'm not sure I ever feel the need to take this journey with him again.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I find it very odd that one of my sons loved this book, and one disliked it. I look forward to reading it myself, as I apparently did not have a teacher in High School who thought it necessary to read certain literary works including this one. I'll let you know my opinion after reading it!