Apart from a brief outline of the plot, the only thing I had ever read about The Catcher in the Rye before picking it up was an article by Dana Czapnik published by the Guardian entitled “From everyteen to annoying: are today’s young readers turning on The Catcher in the Rye?”. Basically, young people wouldn’t see themselves reflected in Holden’s character anymore, especially non-white and non-male readers, at a time when the news are saturated with tragic events as well as warnings about climate change and the Earth’s decay.
“I’ve had conversations about Catcher with undergraduate students in creative writing classes I’ve taught, and every one has complained about disliking Holden.”
— Dana Czapnik
Not very encouraging… Consequently, I was all the more surprised to fall in love with this novel, that I expected to be much darker and disturbing than it really is. Catcher is definitely not a plot-driven story: we follow sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield who, after being expelled, decides to leave the school earlier than he was supposed to, to spend a few days by himself in New York before going back home to his parents’ for Christmas holidays.
A young teenager, alone in a big town, his pockets full of money and no parents to watch him. This could take a turn for the worse. And yet, Holden remains this sweet, partly innocent boy, who is just lost between childhood and adulthood. His wanderings in New York City reflect his state of mind: he doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go, what he’s supposed to do, and listens to his mood. Which teenager has never, at least once, felt like Holden?
“Certain things should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.”
— J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 16
Salinger’s writing is refreshing, extremely fluid and very, very sharp. Told from a first-person perspective, the novel is led by Holden’s stream of thoughts without ever being confusing. Through the use of colloquial speech and numerous recurring terms – you’ll keep saying “phony”, “old” and “that killed me” for a few days –, the author catches the reader’s attention as soon as he opens the book. It departs from the idea of classics as highbrow, inaccessible works of literature: Holden is a hilarious, spontaneous, yet deep and touching character.
Each of his numerous interactions with friends, family members and other acquaintances reveal one side of his personality, so that we get to know and appreciate him without even thinking about it. Obviously, this is only my personal point of view, many readers seem to have had a very different experience.
However, I couldn’t help but feel a tender affection for this teenager who proves to be terribly insightful and lucid despite his careless appearance. And I have to say that his relationship with his little sister, “old Phoebe”, contributed a great deal to my enjoyment of the novel!
I leave you with Dana Czapnik’s comment on the novel that summarizes perfectly how I feel about it:
“[…] A perfectly written portrait of an imperfect character.”
— Dana Czapnik
And this is quite an achievement.
About the book
Author: J. D. Salinger
Publication year: 2018 (first published in 1951 by Little, Brown)
Page count: 240