Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye... think I missed the point

Well, now, finally, I've read The Catcher in the Rye.

I have to be honest. While the book has its moments, and it did make me laugh in places, I didn't really glean just what makes it such a universally-recognized first-rank classic of the 20th century. It would make an interesting movie, and I'd say it's certainly a cut or two above most novels, but I'm just not getting what puts it in the front ranks of so many lists.
I don't like Holden. He doesn't seem able to step outside himself, despite admissions of things like he's yellow, and that sort of thing. He spends most of his time complaining about phonies, while more than once declaring himself an excellent and even gratuitous liar, and seeming quite proud of it. Undoubtedly his obliviousness to the contradiction was deliberate on J. D. Salinger's part, but I think it would have been easier to understand if something had happened to bring Holden to consciousness of his own hypocrisy on what seems to be the crucial bugbear of his philosophy of life. Holden doesn't grow at all in the course of the novel. Ample interactions during his several driftless days in New York give him opportunities to consider his own character and future, but he never does. Most novels about adolescent angst include some 'coming of age' moment, but The Catcher in the Rye doesn't. It's clear Holden's going off to his next school as the same blithe person who's flunked out of all the others. I suppose that might be the message, but if it is, it doesn't strike me as epic and deserving of its must-read high school requirement status.

I mean, y'know, there's something so potentially life-altering and pivotal in here so big that John Lennon died for it? I really don't see it.

I'm entirely open to the idea that I've missed something critical here. Anyone?

3 comments:

Peter said...

No, I was a little underwhelmed as well. It's a well written book. That's about all I can say for it. I once read a book called 'Albion! Albion!' by Dick Morland and in terms of literature, it was pure doggerel but in terms of entertainment it was great. I was simultaneously reading a Tim Winton book for school called 'That Eye The Sky', which was uninteresting in both writing style and narrative content. Australia loves its own, even when mediocre.
At least 'Catcher In The Rye' is both interesting and well written.
But I agree - why is it so popular?

Peter said...

No, I was a little underwhelmed as well. It's a well written book. That's about all I can say for it. I once read a book called 'Albion! Albion!' by Dick Morland and in terms of literature, it was pure doggerel but in terms of entertainment it was great. I was simultaneously reading a Tim Winton book for school called 'That Eye The Sky', which was uninteresting in both writing style and narrative content. Australia loves its own, even when mediocre.
At least 'Catcher In The Rye' is both interesting and well written.
But I agree - why is it so popular?

Scott Palmer, Ph.D. said...

I've never made it very far into "Catcher in the Rye," so I admire your persistence.

As for the book's quality, maybe it speaks to a particular generation, of experiences that neither you, I, nor any of our contemporaries shared. That might account for the adulation that the book received on publication and why it fails to speak to us now.