Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"If a Body Meet a Body:" A Review of J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

Title: Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger
Edition: Paperback (Little, Brown and Company, 1951)
Pages: 214
How I Came By This Book: I decided to read this as part of Banned Book Week. It was obtained from my library.

About the Author: "Jerome David Salinger was an American author, best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, as well as his reclusive nature. His last original published work was in 1965; he gave his last interview in 1980. Raised in Manhattan, Salinger began writing short stories while in secondary school, and published several stories in the early 1940s before serving in World War II. In 1948 he published the critically acclaimed story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his subsequent work. In 1951 Salinger released his novel The Catcher in the Rye, an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year.

The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny: Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently. He followed Catcher with a short story collection, Nine Stories(1953), a collection of a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961), and a collection of two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). His last published work, a novella entitled "Hapworth 16, 1924", appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.

Afterward, Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter. In 1996, a small publisher announced a deal with Salinger to publish "Hapworth 16, 1924" in book form, but amid the ensuing publicity, the release was indefinitely delayed. He made headlines around the globe in June 2009, after filing a lawsuit against another writer for copyright infringement resulting from that writer's use of one of Salinger's characters from The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire." (from GoodReads)

Synopsis: 16-year-old Holden Caulfield has just been kicked out of yet another elite boys' school. Not wanting to face his parents before the letter from the school arrives but not wanting to stick around the extra few days somewhere where he's not wanted, Holden decides to take the last of his money and spend some time on his own back home in New York City. So close and yet so far from his family, he finds his fair share of mishaps in this novel of adolescent angst.

Review: I think that there is an age limit on enjoyment for this book. And I think I passed that age limit about five years ago. 

Holden Caulfield, our unreliable narrator, spends 214 pages whining about everything from people to films to people to life to people. Oh, did I mention he complains about people? While he is at times endearing, I feel that this is the type of book that I would have enjoyed as a teenager, back when I was angsty and bored and angry at the world for not being what I wanted it to be. Now that I'm only a few years away from thirty, I found him to be an obnoxious twit. 

There isn't really much of a story here. A boy who doesn't apply himself in school is kicked out and spends three days drinking and wandering around New York City in order to avoid his parents. He spends most of the book thinking about doing things and not doing them, while the rest of the time is spent either lying to people or pissing them off. Or both. 

This book has been challenged and banned a lot because of language and because Holden spends some time with a prostitute--he rambles to her, making her feel awkward, and then gets punched by her pimp a little while later. While I can see why parents would be a little leery of their kids reading this book, its honestly one of those novels that I think teenagers should read. Knowing how I was in high school, I probably would have loved him. I would have found him funny and prescient and spot on. At that time everyone does seem like a phony and things do seem worse than they are and everything is out to get you. Adults just don't see the world the way that teenagers do, which makes this book so much more appropriate for a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old kid. 

There's honestly not a lot more to say about it. The writing style is a la teenage boy, which is interesting to read when it's not annoying. The story is rambly and boring and doesn't go anywhere. The characters aren't likable, especially not Holden. Plain and simple, once you reach the drinking age, this book probably won't be enjoyable. 

The one quote that I actually liked in this book wasn't even written by the author. It was said by a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel: 
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
Wise words, indeed, but it didn't make me like this book.

I'm giving Catcher in the Rye 3 out of 5 Gabriels. I'm guessing if I had read it in high school, I would have rated it higher, but I just couldn't stand anything about this book.



  1. This books seems to be of the love it or hate it variety. I'm one of the lovers ;) Holden C. just makes me laugh and laugh for some reason. I can't put my finger on it.

    1. There were a lot of parts of this book that I found funny and there were some things about him that I actually liked, but I think it was just the fact that the whole book is him whining. I'm actually kind of glad that I didn't like it. I'm usually the one who goes "I LOVE that book" whenever someone says things like, "Great Expectations sucked." I finally get to see what life is like on the other side of the classics-hating fence. :D

  2. I totally agree w/ you!! I read this years back when it seemed like all the serial killers were referencing it and I was like 'ok what is so messed up about this book'? But then I read it and I just didn't get it! It's about NOTHING! Holden talks about doing stuff but never does anything. Who gets a prostitute so they can bitch about stuff? I was expecting something super deep or creepy, but I got nothing.

    1. I didn't even realize that this book was big with serial killers. Strange. LOl

      And yeah, it just did nothing for me except keep me occupied while no one was in the bookstore during my shift.