Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: The Catcher in the Rye

Salinger, J.D.  (1945).  The Catcher in the Rye.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company.


Appetizer: 16-year-old Holden Caulfield is about to be kicked out of his prep school.  Rather than waiting for the letter to reach his parents' house in the dorm, he decides to take the train to New York City to spend several days in the city before arriving home to face his family's disappointment.

His trip is far from a lighthearted skip through town, rather he feels lonely and depressed as he contemplates his boardings school acquaintances, the girls he's almost slept with, and his siblings.  He seeks out people from his past, has a run-in with a young prostitute and her pimp, and seeks out his little sister, Phoebe.  His few days in New York won't quite be the vacation he'd been hoping to enjoy.

This is my third time reading The Catcher in the Rye (once as a high school sophomore or junior at my father's recommendation, once as required reading when I was in my MFA program, and now, for the first time, as a teacher.  I have joined The Catcher Cult!)  I absolutely hated this book both the first and second times that I read it.  This time around...I can't believe I'm typing this, but I enjoyed it more.  It's still a book that as I read, I quietly wonder when a plot will develop, and contemplate what exactly is Holden's damage.  But this time, his voice did feel honest as I read it.  So many contemporary YA novels try so hard to capture an angsty, quirky, YA voice.  The Catcher in the Rye just *is* that voice, with Holden's unwillingness to shy away from the darker aspects of his character.

During this reading, I was struck by all of the subtle ways Holden desires to help others maintain their innocence.

I was still far from crazy about the way all of the female characters were depicted.

But now I'm left to ponder if it's my ever advancing age that has changed my mind about The Catcher in the Rye.  All of my students, who range in age from about 19 to somewhere in their 40s, gave the book mixed reviews.  There was one person each at the extremes of loving and hating the book and a scattering of everyone else along the spectrum.

Also, just this past weekend NPR's Weekend Edition just reported on a new biography of Salinger.  Part of the broadcast focused on the creation of and the reception of The Catcher in the Rye.  It's a good listen.  I'd planned to show it to my students, along with John Green's comments about the book, to get the conversation going.  But, when it came time for my class to meet, it was the absolute *perfect* weather to have class outside.  So, we went "old school" and technology free to have an intense discussion of the book in the shade of a tree that sits beside a pond on campus.

Dinner Conversation:

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to now is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." (p 1)

"I forgot to tell you about that.  They kicked me out.  I wasn't supposed to come back after Christmas vacation, on account of I was flunking four subjects and not applying myself and all.  They gave me frequent warning[s] to start applying myself--especially around midterms, when my parents came up for a conference with old Thurmer--but I didn't do it.  So I got the ax.  They gave guys the ax quite frequently at Pencey.  It has a very good academic rating, Pencey.  It really does." (p. 4)

"All of a sudden, I decided what I'd really do, I'd get the hell out of Pencey--right that same night and all.  I mean not wait till Wednesday or anything.  I just didn't want to hang around any more.  It made me too sad and lonesome.  So what I decided to do, I decided I'd take a room in a hotel in New York--some very inexpensive hotel and all--and just take it easy till Wednesday.  Then, on Wednesday, I'd go home all rested up and feeling swell.  I figured my parents probably wouldn't get old Thurmer's letter saying I'd been given the ax till maybe Tuesday or Wednesday.  I didn't want to go home or anything till they got it and thoroughly digested it and all.  I didn't want to be around when they first got it  My mother gets very hysterical.  She's not too bad after she gets something thoroughly digested, though.  Besides, I sort of needed a a little vacation  My nerves were shot.  They really were." (p. 51)


Tasty Rating:  !!!

1 comment:

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