Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is yet another book on that list that I’d never read. And I will not ever open that book again. It didn’t appeal to me at all and I’ve been wondering throughout my reading why it’s among the 100 books to read before you die.
The book tells the story of Holden, a 16-year-old teenager who’s been sacked from yet another school, Pencey. He’s telling us what happens to him during the weekend he decides to leave Pencey to spend time in New York and not go back home before Wednesday after his parents receive the letter about his being sacked.
The book is written in the first person and the narrator doesn’t hesitate to speak to the reader, which would be interesting, maybe even unsettling, if the story were engaging.
As it were, it felt like verbal diarrhea. The story is all over the place, as if the narrator just speaks of whatever he thinks about in the moment. There doesn’t seem to be an aim, a process. Maybe it’s written to make you feel that way – a bit like Catch-22 where the entire structure of the book feels like a catch-22 itself and it works. But here it leaves an impression of a mess, as if the author wasn’t going to the end of the process.
Everything seems to start and stop. For example, the kid goes to a club to hear a pianist, sits down, but then because he sees his brother’s ex-date, he leaves, and then he’s upset because he didn’t get to hear anything good played by this good musician. Why did you leave then? Why does someone else’s presence stop you from staying and enjoying the music?
I can see how the writing would fit the messy mind of a sixteen years old: conceited, selfish and self-absorbed and with that feeling that the entire world is against you. There’s also this black and white view of the world and of people… Then there’s the constant thinking about women and sex/relationships. It permeates the story; in some ways, Holden’s way of relating to female characters in the book makes you realize how young he is and how stupid he is.
The story didn’t engage me; neither did the main character. He is annoying, always criticizing the people around him and then feeling sorry for himself because he’s alone. Typical teenager I guess, but on the extreme side of it.
The one thing I found fascinating is the difference between what might have happened today and at the time of the story: no way a kid could have entered a bar without some sort of fake idea, and $80 odd to pay for cab, train, drinks, a show on Broadway, some more drinks, a hooker, cigarettes… Not happening today. Entering the zoo or the museum without paying?
Salinger’s New York feels very different from the city I’ve come to know. I love New York but I might have liked it better then ;-). Who knows?
I’m not entirely sure what the fuss is about this book. What did I miss?