The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

This is a book I’ve been meaning to re-read for quite some time. I think I’ve been hesitant to pick it up mainly because of my experience doing so with another book I previously held in such high regard, The Shining. It doesn’t feel good reframing, for the worse, the way you look at something so influential in your upbringing, but it’s easy enough to do when you revisit something with years of other reading and experiences influencing this opinion. Of course, the flip side’s pretty cool, coming out of the experience with newfound admiration that a previous lack of understanding may have prevented, so the re-read’s not a guaranteed downer, it’s just an exercise that makes me a bit uneasy. Thankfully, I, once again, emerged from The Catcher in the Rye with a sense of enjoyment and appreciation.

The Catcher in the Rye follows our narrator, Holden Caulfield, through an uncertain few days bumming around New York City after dropping out of prep school. Through his interactions and misunderstandings over the course of the story, we get a sense of not only a lack of direction at this point in Holden’s life, but also of a character disgusted by the vast majority of people around him––phonies, as he sees them, in the upper-class world of his existence.

And the writing’s solid, all around. The big thing that stood out for me on this reading was the overall characterization of the narrator, especially the sense of great sincerity I was left with. It seems to me that Salinger cultivates this realism through tangentially related anecdotes with specific details that give Holden personality. (Compare this to a similar technique in Greg Rhyno’s To Me You Seem Giant, which not only lacked the level of detail Salinger employed in his anecdotes, but also didn’t have as strong a connection to the subject at hand, and, as such, cut into the flow of the story in the attempt to characterize his narrator effectively.) Most significantly––coming at it as a self-diagnosed hypomanic––I felt the author so successfully captured Holden’s frequent mood changes in a way I can relate to. This may have been one of the reasons this book spoke to me so many years ago, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

And, while we’re on the topic of what I didn’t realize at the time, I don’t think I really understood how much Holden’s observations and general narration expressed about his character, rather than those around him. I think I saw it more as an interesting individual honestly observing all the phonies and jerks around him. While I still think there’s at least a bit of truth to that, so much more comes off as the world filtered through a bitter, frustrated narrator struggling with at least a bit of depression.

That’s what I really got out of it this time around. I mean, The Catcher in the Rye’s sometimes touching, sometimes funny, usually interesting, but, ultimately, hugely sincere.