I used to hate this book. Really hate it. If this book was drowning in a lake and I happened to be walking by, I’d stuff my hands into my pockets and just let nature take its blessed course. There was only one problem with my ire: my sole reading of Catcher had taken place in 9th grade. I still have post-traumatic stress related to listening to every single person in my class explain how Holden was a manifestation of how they felt, and how they were like Holden, and so on. It was enough to make anyone disown the novel.
Having survived the litmus test of majoring in literature, I promised myself I’d revisit some of the books I’d only read in the confines of a classroom. I started off easy, taking in To Kill a Mockingbird, which I loved the first time and knew would be much to my liking upon a second reading. Then I twisted my arm a little and read Catcher. Let’s get right to it: I liked it. A lot. Salinger wrote a great novel at a time when such novels were truly scarce. It’s really easy to forget this fact in a world flooded with fiction focused on adolescent characters. Holden birthed an immense spawn of copycats and descendants, but if you can read Catcher knowing he’s the trailblazer, it becomes difficult to withhold your admiration.
From a plot standpoint, little happens. Holden boozes and slinks his way through a couple of days in New York City. He’s bitter, he’s depressed, and the only person in the world who seems to “get him” is his sister Phoebe. Now I’m not going to drop any thesis statements in a page review of a classic novel, but I will say what I really enjoyed about Catcher this time around was probing the notion that Holden is in love with his sister. The bad kind of love. I’m definitely not breaking any new territory with this assertion, but as a self-proclaimed despiser of the novel, I hadn’t read a lot of theory on it before I tackled it for the second time.
Salinger’s prose tickles my nostalgia bone, both with the dialogue choices he makes and the late 40’s lifestyle lived by his characters. I’m very interested in reading Franny & Zooey or 9 Stories next, and I’m a cautious convert to the temple of Holden, at least until I hear someone else tell me how much they identify with him. Holden is not a character; he’s a set of ideals encased in skin. I used to find those ideals lofty and self-serving, and I still do. I guess what’s changed is that now I can somewhat see outside them, to appreciate that Catcher isn’t only a boy’s exploration of the world, but also that world’s reaction to him.