Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

January 16, 2015 · 6:36 pm

 The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Readability:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Content:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Overall:3 Stars (3 / 5)

The Catcher in the Rye is the perfect example of high school English class literature that I never got around to reading, so I decided to tackle it for Project 2015.

This book is essentially a 48 hour stream-of-consciousness of fifteen year old Holden Caulfield. It begins on a Saturday afternoon as Caulfield says goodby to Pencey Prep (he’s failing out), and follows him through a tumultuous weekend in New York City as he tries to drink and socialize his way out of a growing depression/nervous breakdown.  He wraps up the story at a park on Monday afternoon, having found some measure of solace in the company of his little sister, Phoebe.

The Catcher in the Rye took me completely by surprise.  I have no idea how I got the idea (perhaps the Pegasus-esque horse on the cover), but I was expecting some sort of mythical children’s story about dreams. Instead I found myself roaming the streets of NYC inside the mind of an angsty teenage boy with a bizarre vocabulary and pattern of speech.  I really felt like I aught to love this book, but my predominate feeling as I read it, and even once I’d finished, was bewilderment.

Likes:

  • I’ve never felt so completely inside the mind of a character before, except perhaps in Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go (and the whole Chaos Walking series.) Stream-of-conciousness is not my favorite style to read, but I do think it takes a certain level of literary genius to do it well.
  • Caulfield is not terribly introspective, but his feelings come across as incredibly raw and poignant nonetheless.
  • Salinger captures so much of the way that we think about the many different people we encounter, from our first impression of their noses, to the feelings they leave us with.
  • In the midst of his ceaseless rambling, Caulfield offers a handful of very profound insights into society.

Dislikes:

  • As I said, stream-of-consciousness is not my favorite style to read, especially when it is so full of colloquialisms and disjointed thoughts.  Holden Caulfield’s unique voice becomes sort of endearing after a while, but I still found it a bit grating to read.
  • I was pretty far into the book before I finally stopped trying to piece the plot together, and realized that there really isn’t one.  There was a moment in the end that seems to wrap up the story with a bow (à la Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower), but I couldn’t help feeling it was incomplete.  I expect a story to have some sort of unifying theme, and/or culminating event.  This was a detailed account of a moment in time, a psychosocial event, an intricate portrait of an individual, but not a story in the traditional sense.  I don’t think this necessarily deserves to be a con, except to say that even a great portrait cannot be a better story than a really good story (with a plot).

Favorite Quotes:

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” -Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

“I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it.  I can’t always pray when I feel like it.  In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist.  I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.  Take the Disciples, for instance.  They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth.  They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head.  All they did was keep letting Him down.  I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples.” -Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

“I remember I asked old Childs if he thought Judas, the one that betrayed Jesus and all, went to Hell after he committed suicide.  Childs said certainly.  That’s exactly where I disagreed with him.  I said I’d bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell.  I still would, too, if I had a thousand bucks.  I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and all—and fast, too—but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it.” -Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” -Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

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