Book Review: Why The Catcher in the Rye Doesn’t Catch Me

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Because I spent more time complaining about J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye than enjoying it, I feel like I can’t rate it highly.  I began (and finished) the book at the insistence of a good friend who adores it.  Because I was reading more out of duty than a desire, though I did try to trick myself into believing that I liked and wanted to read the book, I may have contracted schoolbook syndrome (where any book read for school is more despised than that book would otherwise be if the school did not require its reading) while reading it.  However, I can still name what I disliked:

Mostly what bothered me was Salinger’s style.  I am (almost) never a fan of books that treat curse words as meaningless space-holders (see also Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck), 1) because I dislike reading curse words, 2) because using them with such constancy takes away their power, and 3) because I know that I a) would have enjoyed the book better and b) the book would have been so much shorter if those unnecessary words had been left out.  Salinger piqued me a step further in The Catcher in the Rye by not only using curse words as space-holders but using whole phrases in this way, such as “I really do” and “I really can’t.”  For goodness sake, Holden, you’ve said it once; I believe you; stop repeating yourself!

Otherwise, the plot, is extremely loose.  In fact I would say that little happens in The Catcher in the Rye and what is central is Holden’s almost stream-of-consciousness.  Stream-of-consciousness novels are hard to write well because, for one, I and I think a lot of others want our books to possess the order, the excitement, the bravery etc. that we wish existed in our real lives.  Being a stream-of-consciousness novel, this book could not offer me order, and Holden does little which I would want to emulate, so I can’t even draw all that much strength from him.  Would I be willing to run around NYC on a pocket’s worth of cash?  No.  Am I impressed by his bravado in doing so?  Maybe a bit, though I can only be so impressed when I think he ought to have gone home to his parents’ house.

I thought several times that we were getting to the point of the book, but was most excited for this potential climax: “Don’t you think there’s a time and place for everything?  Don’t you think if someone starts out to tell you about his father’s farm, he should stick to his guns, then get around to telling you about his uncle’s brace?  Or, if his uncle’s brace is such a provocative subject, shouldn’t he have selected it in the first place as his subject—not the farm?”

I thought that Holden was about to learn something, then Salinger threw this at me:

“But what I mean is, lots of time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most.  […]  I mean you can’t hardly ever simplify and unify something just because somebody wants you to.”

Well played, Salinger.  I still, however, prefer books that contain the order that life can’t.

**

Salinger, J. D.  The Catcher in the Rye.  New York: Back Bay-Little, Brown-Hachette, 2001.  First published 1945.

This review is not endorsed by J. D. Salinger, Back Bay Books, Little, Brown, & Company, or Hachette Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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