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Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (3/5)

29 Dec

I never read this book in high school. I had a cousin say I should read it a few years ago but kept putting it off. I was shocked there wasn’t an audiobook easy to pick up for it so it didn’t come up sooner. I mentioned to my reading buddy that I hadn’t read it and she remembered liking it in high school and was game for a re-read. And so we started.

Cover image via Amazon

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Summary from Goodreads:

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

I’m not sure what I expected from this book. I knew that Holden would be an unreliable narrator, but that was about all I came into it with. I wasn’t a big fan of Holden and that held me back from liking the book. I felt bad for him at times, but not enough that he was endearing or sympathetic.

Holden seemed to be struggling with something and it was hard to put my finger on what it was. His issues seemed to be larger than adolescence. I wondered at times if he was bipolar, ADHD, or Autistic. It made me wonder about how he would be treated in 2020 when diagnostics and treatments for such conditions are more accessible. Maybe he wouldn’t have been kicked out of so many schools or living on his own in New York for three days. If nothing else, he would have a cell phone to call his sister. 

Phoebe was by far my favorite character. She was so kind and loving. She knew her brother was having problems at school and she still loved him because that didn’t matter to her. What mattered was that he loved her and she loved him. She was very kind and giving and it was easy to see why she was so special to Holden.

I related best to Mr. Spencer at the beginning of the book and I think that shows how little I related to most of the novel. I wanted to encourage Holden and it was hard to want to help him when he kept pushing away anyone who showed interest in him. He was rude to Sally and Mr. Antolini and everyone except Phoebe. I thought Mr. Spencer had wonderful intentions and wanted to help Holden more than most, but he was pushed aside and dismissed because of his age. I was so frustrated.

J.D. Salinger
Image via Amazon

I thought Holden’s time in the hotel was the most interesting. I realized how long he’d gone without sleep and was loving the crazy shenanigans he got into while he was doing everything he could to stay awake. Between the bars, the hooker, and setting up dates with Sally, he kept me entertained and I was wondering when he would finally crash.

The ending of the book was a big disappointment to me and I’m going to spoil it so please skip ahead if you want to avoid that. I felt the ending was far too abrupt. The nice afternoon with Phoebe was lovely. It’s clear something traumatic happened when Holden’s parents found out he’d been kicked out again. I’m wondering if the facility he’s in is a psychiatric treatment facility and he’s telling the story to a therapist. He seems to be in some sort of in-patient treatment but I couldn’t get a good sense of what from the short final chapter. It left me feeling frustrated. Maybe I needed an English teacher to explain it to me.

Our perceptions of ourselves and the way others perceive us is so different. Holden constantly complains about people being phony and then does the same things he complains about in others. He perceives his own actions as justified but can’t seem to justify the same actions in others. Several times, we see others say that he’s not aware of how he speaks or how his questions are received and doesn’t recognize that others are uncomfortable. We are all the heroes of our own stories.

Writer’s Takeaway: Salinger does a great job of creating a strong voice in Holden. We can get a better understanding of him and how he thinks from the internal dialogue (or storytelling) we get from him. It reminded me of Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now. It is a great way to tell about a character with a strong personality and sense of self. I think it gave the story an edge it could never have had. Holden’s story couldn’t have been told another way.

The characters annoyed me and the ending fell flat. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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