I like to wait to review a book I’ve read. I can usually give you some impressions right after I’m done, but for a review, I need to chew on it for a few days. I’m glad I took a few days to chew on The Catcher in the Rye, because from impressions to review, the gap was monumental.
At first, I wasn’t sure why this book was such a big deal. Holden Caulfield is every angsty 16-year-old boy railing against the world, and he has a unique voice that carries the entire novel. I commented that I was confused by the book because I kept expecting THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL it has become, but it wasn’t until I put myself in the mindset of someone reading this in the 50s. Holden is the original angsty teenage boy, the genesis of the trope; once I got that, the novel clicked for me.
The novel would’ve probably resonated more with me if I’d read it in high school or in my early 20s, when I was also an angsty teenage boy. Reading it now in my 40s (late 40s at that), Holden made me sad. He’s deep in the throes of depression, and spends all his time judging and hating others for not being who he thinks they should be (the irony being that he’s also not being who he thinks he should be). Then again, with an older brother who creates art yet is selling out in Hollywood, and a younger almost perfect brother who died, Holden doesn’t really have anyone to anchor him except for his little sister, the one ray of hope Holden holds on to.
The writing is excellent; Holden’s voice as he narrates what would otherwise be an absolutely mundane couple of days in New York City is raw and real, full of cursing and observations about a world he’s not quite sure how it works, yet suffers the full effects of. I can understand why people had a tizzy over the language in the book, although it’s terribly tame by our modern standards.
I’m glad I read it and stuck with it when I felt myself faltering, because I ended up really enjoying it.