The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book will be familiar to most Americans as high school required reading. It’s about a teenager, Holden Caulfield, who’s just been expelled from a boarding school and who goes on the adolescent version of a bender – which involves some drinking but is more a mix of attempted escape and soul-searching. At first, it seems that Holden just wants to put off having to see his parents (this not being the first school at which he’s failed,) but then it seems like he might try to escape the transition to adult life altogether.
The core premise is that Caulfield can’t adapt to adult life. This is interesting in that, in some ways, he’s preternaturally mature. The character has an unusually accurate perception of his own nature, even when that nature is petty, childish, or lazy. He doesn’t rationalize his failures but recognizes them. Ultimately, Caulfield can’t cope with the false masks required of adult living and the ever-changing nature of adult life.
Like many, I did a shoddy (at best) job of reading this book in high school. It’s not exactly an action-packed romp, and the major happenings (e.g. a fight at school, being shaken down by a pimp on behalf of prostitute whom Caulfield had paid but hadn’t had sex with, and an unwelcomed [possibly sexual] advance from a former teacher) are few, far between, and somewhat anticlimactic. That said, as literary fiction the book is readable, makes bold choices with language, builds a fascinating character, and offers plenty of interesting psychology to ponder.
I’d highly recommend this book for readers of literary fiction (or a re-read for those who half-assed it in school.)
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