Monday, October 27, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield is being expelled yet again from another school, so rather than finish out the last few days of the term he decides to head home early for the holidays. However, he does not want to break the news of his expulsion earlier than necessary to his parents, so he decides to wander around New York City for those few days before returning home. With his illicit freedom, he pursues life with reckless abandon, following impulses rather than a plan. From meeting up with old friends to getting drunk at a popular bar and even sneaking into his own home to visit his sister while his parents are out, Holden’s days are full of adventures. The one thing that is missing, though, is his little brother, Allie, who died a few years ago. Despite all his carousing, Holden finds himself fed up with all the phonies in New York. His friends from childhood, the actors in the show, and everyone from every school he has ever been kicked out of. Rather than put up with it, Holden resolves to leave town without notice and make a new life for himself. His sister convinces him to stay, and instead Holden finds himself in another hospital similar to the one he stayed at after his brother died so many years ago.

“The Catcher in the Rye” is a compelling story of teen angst, overpowering loss, and all-encompassing frustration at the state of the world and the people in it. Salinger narrates Holden’s adventures in a highly conversational tone and it is easy to become caught up in a world of phonies where everything is either depressing as hell or so ridiculous that you end up laughing like a madman. Salinger seamlessly transitions between adventures so that Holden’s somewhat less-than-logical decisions show smooth connection and believable reasoning. As a reader, you only receive quick glimpses into Holden’s past; Salinger remains focused on Holden’s present life and decisions. He offers an interesting perspective on the world, simultaneously sorrowful and resigned yet almost objective in his universal rejection of others. By creating such a melancholic world, Salinger evokes sympathy, pity, and also a keen eye for the positives, however slight or fleeting they may be.

I remember reading this book for the first time in high school, but I cannot for the life of me remember my reaction to it. Whatever it was then, I’m sure my response is drastically different now. I want to “social work” everything these days, so I spent the entire story tracking Holden’s behavior, making note of duration, severity, and frequency of depressive symptoms. I also found myself questioning his perception of the world because it was so pervasively negative. As a result, I was highly engaged with the story throughout the entire book, and it was a notably different reading experience. Diagnoses aside, I like this book but I don’t love it. It would be good to read if you have time, but not necessary if you don’t.