J.D. Salinger’s 1945 book, Catcher in the Rye, told to us by the main character Holden Caulfield, begins the night before he leaves Pencey Prep after being kicked out for not applying himself to any subject except composition. It’s at least the second school that has kicked him out and he hopes to delay facing his parents’ wrath by bumming around New York City for a few days until his family expects him for Christmas vacation. He’s a tall, fairly handsome, very cynical, smoking teenager who is still a virgin and has no direction in life. His apathy probably has to do with his post-WW II world as much as the death of his much-beloved, younger brother, Allie.
Holden’s introduction sets the pace for the next 276 pages with 26 untitled chapters.
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Soon you realize that Catcher in the Rye is told with many flashbacks that relate in some way to his present situation, with events leading up to his termination at Pencey and memories of his interactions with his roommate, neighbour, his kid sister, a teacher and girls. He horses around and tries to engage the first two in conversation when they ignore him or try to sleep. It isn’t until he learns who Stradlater is dating that he shows some real concern.
Unable to stop worrying about this girl he knows well, Jane, Holden starts an ill-conceived, physical fight with Stradlater when he returns. All bloodied, Holden doesn’t even clean up or stuff his nose but forces an invitation from his neighbour to sleep in the bed of his gone-for-the-weekend roommate. It’s not until Holden waits for the train to the city that he uses snow on his face. Throughout the book he keeps thinking fondly of this girl, wanting to call her only to fall out of the mood to do so. He also criticizes all movies now as stupid and forces himself to go to one alone while waiting to meet a snobbish friend in the city. He gets very little sleep, tries to get laid by a hooker, chickens out, tries to get drunk, tries to find out what happened to the ducks in Central Park now the water’s frozen over. He provides a graphic picture of the eccentricities of people in the city as well as his own.
The title, Catcher in the Rye, comes from his dream of being on the edge of a rye field where there’s a cliff and he’s catching all the playing children before they fall off. I’m no Dr. Freud, but his role in the dream is probably two-fold with him wanting to be a child playing at life, but need to be an adult who catches himself being irresponsible.
This classic, even after all these years, remains extremely fresh. Read it for a realistic, often amusing, coming-of-age portrait, a one-of-a-kind character study, unlike any other. It has to be read to be understood. And it’s as much about style (the writing) as it is about anything else. Truly beautiful work. So buy CATCHER IN THE RYE! Read it. Another novel, somewhat related to Catcher is THE LOSERS CLUB: Complete Restored Edition! by Richard Perez, another book I found very entertaining.
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