Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J.D. Salinger
Genre: Classic Coming-of-Age Fiction
Number of Pages: 277
So, I finally read this book which has been on my to-read list forever. I knew it was polarizing (mostly because of the main character, Holden Caufield, who’s admittedly pretty hard to like at times) but it seemed like one of those novels everyone should at least try once. He’s a moody sixteen-year-old boy who has just been kicked out of yet another private school, and he goes on an odyssey of New York City meeting different people and contemplating his future. That’s pretty much it plot-wise. If someone asked me to describe this book I’d have a really hard time doing so in a way that made it sound interesting, yet it somehow is a compelling book to read.
The strongest element of this book is Holden’s narrative voice, which is crisp, natural, and plausibly self-contradictory. You really feel like you’re in this kid’s head and even though he might not be ‘likable’ (and I don’t require main characters in books to always be likable,) he’s a fascinating portrait of a loner who longs for connection while simultaneously judging and dismissing almost everyone he comes into contact with. It really appealed to the defeatist in me, because when it comes to being ‘heard’ and ‘seen’ aren’t we usually our biggest enemies?
The book was published in 1951 but the prose has an almost timeless quality to it. There’s something undeniably modern about Holden’s angst even though it was published more than sixty years ago. All the characters are believable and contribute something to the story in their own small way, even if they only show up for a page or two. I really liked Holden’s relationship with his younger sister Phoebe and I think that might have been his main redeeming quality.
He doesn’t want her to feel as lost and miserable as he does and his love for her becomes apparent throughout the story. Holden Caufield’s narrative voice has a strong ‘spoken-word’ element to it and Salinger excels at making it feel like a real person talking about their life. I totally get why people don’t like this book but as a reader who prefers character-driven stories and likes stories written in stream-of-consciousness style, I admired what the author was trying to do and the tangible sense of disconnection and loneliness he created. Unfortunately, J.D. Salinger didn’t write very many books but I’m looking forward to reading Franny & Zooey and a collection of his short stories.