Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

 PAPERBACK; 218 P.
 LITTLE, BROWN & CO, 1991/1954
 SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

If you’ve ever wanted to leave where you are and just go somewhere completely different, you’ll know what Holden Caulfield is feeling. He tells you the story of the few days following his expulsion from yet another prep school. He’ll tell you about his room mates, his teachers, the girl she played chess with last summer, and how one day close to Christmas break he decided to leave the school early and just lay low for a couple of days in the bustling New York. The story is told a year after the events take place when Holden is 17 and situated in a mental hospital. We don’t know how and why, but you might find the reason from the pages of the book.

The narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is hyperbolic, repeats certain phrases at every turn and has a high tendency to cuss. Thus it took me some time to get used to Holden and to understand his character. In the beginning of the book, we are told only a few facts about the narrator, but as the story progresses the picture begins to expand and our perception of the story to form. For a long time I had no idea where the story was heading, and I guess it only dawned to me when I turned the last page. I loved especially the middle part of The Catcher in the Rye – the small moments Holden had with people he met in New York – because in those moments Salinger tells us much about the American society and about ourselves. In fact, this particular section reminded me of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I also read recently. Whether it be about the phonies or peer pressure or the need to dream, the narrator has a lot to say.

Someone asked me on Goodreads if I thought The Catcher in the Rye is a must-read classic or simply overrated. After reading the book it is easy to see why this book divides opinions. On one hand, it captures the angst and the pressure to grow up and “get serious”. It is written in a style that passes the muster even with today’s youth and it isn’t too preachy about what is right and what wrong. But on the other hand, it isn’t a plot-driven book, the main character can seem very irrational, and the past tense writing style doesn’t make it too easy to read. In my case, The Catcher in the Rye didn’t completely capture my attention, but I enjoyed it for its narration technique as well as the unique voice that Holden has. It is one of those books that I’ll maybe have to read again to truly grasp it. However, reading The Catcher in the Rye has definitely opened my eyes to the many references in popular culture and I appreciate that. I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy classics, first-person narration, or are in the brink of adulthood – it’ll kill you.

4/5

I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.

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