Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

I've lived under a rock my whole reading life, as this is the first time I've read The Catcher in the Rye.  I think maybe I tried to read it one other time, and didn't get past the first few pages.  I made it to the end this time.

Over the years, people (I don't know who) cast a spell of glamour over The Catcher in the Rye.  It has Mystique.  Not the blue mutant.  The other kind.  It's about teenage angst and rebellion and the isolation of adolescence.  At least that was my impression of The Catcher in the Rye from having not read it.  Now having read it, I think my impression was right.  It's about angst and isolation and rebellion.   So no surprises there.

What I was surprised about was how little I liked Holden Caulfield.  A good friend of mine, who is younger than I by 20 years, gave me the book, and said it was his favorite book ever.  When I asked him why, he said when he was in high school, he wrote me back via Facebook:  "Holden's character is totally what I felt like when I was in high school."  And what I kept thinking, the entire way through the novel, was how much I liked my friend, and how little he was like Holden, mostly because my friend was likable.  But I also thought only a teenager would even want to be like Holden.  Angst is so boring.

Some of the book was funny, but I don't remember which parts now, so they must not have been that funny. 

 Re-reading that makes me sound like a dimwit.

The word I'm going to take away from The Catcher in the Rye is "flit."  That surprised me, the discussion of gays (flits) and gayness (flittishness).  So teen boys have been worrying about gayness since at least the 1940s.  Holden's attitude towards flits wasn't as hateful as it could have been.  He didn't seem disgusted.  

So Holden grows up and in my mind becomes Bobby from Company.  The entire book reminded me of Judy Blume as well.  Twenty years later, Blume writes Then Again, Maybe I Won't, about a boy just a few years younger than Holden and his views on sex.  I'm reading Then Again Maybe I Won't right now for the first time in - 30 years? - so see if I'm correct in relating the two.  

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A glamour has been cast over The Catcher in the Rye since its publication; it has Mystique (not the blue mutant, the other kind).    I, who apparently lived under a rock since I learned how to read in second grade (that's when we were taught how to read back in the dark ages; none of this bullshit about kindergartners reading; all we did in kindergarten was played), had never read The Catcher in the Rye until now, at age 44.  I hate to say this, but I think it's definitely a book for teenagers.  Could it be called the first YA book?    I think I would have enjoyed it immensely at age 15, and also been highly embarrassed by all the sex talk and swear words; I certainly would have hid it from my mother.  Holden's rebellion, angst, and isolation isn't quite so interesting to me now, and quite frankly, I thought he was an asshole.  He's not attractive.  I was (pleasantly, I guess) surprised at homosexuality "flitting" about the book and appearing in various chapters; I always seem to forget that gays and lesbians weren't invented at Stonewall in 1969, and I'm ALWAYS stupidly astonished when they pop up in books written prior to this modern age (Love in a Cold Climate instantly came to mind).  I'm going out on a limb to suggest that Holden Caulfield grew up to be Bobby in Company: A Musical Comedy or that the children of Judy Blume (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and especially Then Again, Maybe I Won't) are at the very least Holden's nieces and nephews.  I say if you haven't read it, and you are old like me, then you should.  But be warned; it's not as interesting or well written as you've been led to believe all these years. If you are a teenager, however, go for it and love it heartily.  You may feel differently about it re-reading it in middle age.




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