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Catcher in the Rye

02 May

From the archives

My online bookclub’s May (2008) book was The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve read it twice before and wondered before I started it this time whether I’d think it was as good. It was. Salinger really captures the world of the prep school kids and their affluent and not so affluent parents. Holden is so observant, witty, sensitive, flawed, and even phony himself. (He lies to so many people unnecessarily and KNOWS it’s unnecessary.) All these dimensions and those that he notices in others make this a book I recommend to anyone.

It’s so funny and real. The characters’ dialog and behavior are absolutely on target. Salinger really gets us inside Holden’s head and keeps us there through the whole book. It presents this real problem of how is Holden supposed to survive in these social environments that he finds so offensive. Readers can completely see his predictament and are engaged in wanting him to find a solution, for someone to find one, yet one knows that’s unlikely. The other people in his life just don’t worry so much about living in a world where gas mileage is a big topic.

Some might think that the kids are too smart. Phoebe can correct Holden on his misquote of “Catcher in the Rye” but I just met a woman who works at a private school here and all the kids in kindergarden can identify the painter of works like “American Gothic.” Salinger captures this society precisely.

Sadly, I thought if Holden were around today, and we do have Holdens out there, he’d be put on medication early on. We want to solve our problems by medicating the people who notice that we should care about things other than then mundane.

I kept wondering if this could be made into a movie. I think it shouldn’t because all the interior comments as voice overs would just be annoying. Giving him a sidekick is out because the problem is with Holden is that he doesn’t have a peer who shares his point of view. I think as long as Salinger’s alive there won’t be a movie, but I do wonder if there’s some family member out there who’d want the money after he’s gone. Seems Salinger, whom I imagine is in a cabin where there isn’t so much contact with the banal must be an awful lot like Holden. (I know one shouldn’t expect it to be mainly autobiographical). I also wonder if this 89 year old recluse doesn’t have a cabin full of manuscripts that we’ll one day see – an American “In Search of Lost Time” perhaps.

Below I’ve added a link on the attempts to film this. Salinger did discuss it and wanted to play Holden himself. Billy Wilder tried to get the rights as did Spielberg. Imagine.

The jacket of my copy said that it took Salinger 10 years to write this. So he clearly rewrote and rewrote till he got something that seems like pure teen dialog, like a real kid telling us what happened before he went to the hospital or institution he’s in. It’s interesting how some information like where he is and what exactly led him there shortly before he arrived. Because when he’s at the carousel with Phoebe he seems to be getting better able to cope. He thinks it’s okay that kids “fall”.

Online the group discussed how this book is so often banned. I wouldn’t ban it, but I do see that since there’s prostitution, homosexuality, inappropriate affection between a former teacher and Holden, abusive bullying that leads to suicide, underaged drinking and a mental break down that some parents and adults might have their own (midguided or just different?) take. I know that I’m not likely to imitate all literature I read. I do think this would be a good book to read to examine morality with young people.

I thought a lot about Mr. Antolini and how complex that character was. On the one hand, as Holden noticed he was the one guy to run to help the boy who committed suicide after some boys molested him and he offered Holden wisdom that seemed the sort of advice that really could help Holden, if anything could. Yet Salinger did add in the scene when Antolini starts patting the sleeping Holden on his head. I think Holden’s instincts to get out of there were right. It’s what we’d tell kids to do today. So this adult who Holden was wise to go to for help turns out to be someone Holden should listen to, but also, just to be safe, keep his distance from. Then afterwards Holden still sees the good in his old teacher and evidently forgives him. Few writers would have one character be both these things.

I did see that Catcher in the Rye has not gotten dated. It teaches writers so much about characterization. It reminded me a bit of Ordinary People in that the parents weren’t “bad” nor was the son. Life just puts some people at odds with others, even those who try to help them.

It rains a lot in this book and one thing I was wondering about was why Holden even gets “rained on” by the radiator in the hotel bar before he goes home and sees Phoebe. It must have some significance because when he’s on his way home he comments on his hair getting icy.

A Link: one person’s assessment of the Bible’s influence on Salinger

On film adaptation attempts: Attempted_film_adaptations

Is Catcher in the Rye Really Unfilmable?

The Burns poem:

Coming Through the Rye
by Robert Burns
(1759-1796)
Coming thro’ the rye, poor body,
Coming thro’ the rye,
She draiglet a’ her petticoatie
Coming thro’ the rye.

O, Jenny’s a’ wat, poor body;
Jenny’s seldom dry;
She draiglet a’ her petticoatie
Coming thro’ the rye.

Gin a body meet a body
Coming thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body –
Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Coming thro’ the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body –
Need the warld ken?

It’s like a foreign language to me.

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in American Lit

 

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