Re-reading long after I left the age…………………
I read ‘Catcher’ for the first time when I was in my teens, and believe I may have read it again around 5 years later. It seemed interesting to try in again long after that time when the rapid hormonal changes are putting you through extreme autonomic nervous system hyper-arousal – fight, flight, dissociation and ‘whatever’ freeze
And what a very different (though enormously enjoyable) experience it has been, leading me to reflect much more on the writing than I ever did. When I read it, it was long before it was deemed necessary to get teens into reading by ‘books aimed at teenagers’ We were reading classics in school, dealing with adult themes, and expected to read them in an adult and sophisticated way (admittedly, my education was geared towards pushing us all into academia, so we were expected to pull ourselves upwards from an initial place of interest and enthusiasm)
Now, I gather that because this is about a teenager, written first person, it is deemed to be fit to ‘encourage’ reluctant readers – I think it’s absolutely the wrong book to be forced to approach in a lit-crit way, at the time when your relationship with it might be purely emotional identification – or, it might be too uncomfortable to observe, up close and personal your own psychology when in the middle of it. Not to mention the fact that some of the language will feel very dated – I wonder how books written by adults with a teen narrator will fare in 50 odd years’ time (Catcher was published originally in 1945. And, no, that’s not when I first read it!) I suspect the endless like, like, whatever dialogue – if the author really attempts to pin down current youth buzz-speak, will make for throw-the-book-against-the-wall annoyance. Salinger is pretty sparing of his I assume 1945 young-slang but I suspect it might distance a teen reader, as it will make it feel dated.
I think in many ways it is an ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ read, and far more interesting for an (ahem) mature reader. I really appreciated this time round, Salinger’s skill.
Firstly, that first-person narrative. Perhaps of late this has been overdone. I know a lot of readers dislike it intensely and find it false. When appropriate (like any stylistic choice) it works brilliantly. And this is, for sure, appropriate. Had Salinger decided on the narrator as third person god approach, the wonderful mismatch between the dismissive ‘whatever’ thoughts of Holden Caulfield and his tenderness, how much vulnerability of any kind ‘kills’ him, be it impoverished nuns with straw baskets or what happens to the ducks in Central Park in the winter. The swiftness of his movement from prickliness to vulnerability and compassion and back again is beautifully done, and very truthful.
In many ways, for those unfamiliar with the book, not a lot (externally) happens. Intelligent, sensitive, prickly-as-a-succulent-cactus Holden Caulfield, second son of an eccentric, gifted, clearly damaged, family. The third child died young, of leukaemia, before the start of the novel, and the shock-waves have hit everyone hard. Holden himself is at that stage where he is most unforgiving of everyone around him BECAUSE he is so vulnerable to their vulnerabilities – prickle is a defence against pain. He has just been expelled from his latest expensive school. He is a youngster with an attitude, self-destructive, wasting of his talents without being able to see quite why that might matter. The ‘story’ of the book is the three or four days between the expulsion and when his family would expect him home for the normal term end. Holden is looking back at that period, from a time some months in the near future, and he is telling his story possibly to us, but maybe to someone else – who that might be is suggested, quite early on.
He does his best to put his listener or his reader off wanting to know more, but, as he is both wittingly and unwittingly quirky and amusing, no doubt the reader, or the listener, will stay involved for the ride
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all – I’m not saying that – but they’re also as touchy as hell.
The push-away, draw-in, sullen whateverness of this complex teen – not to mention teen-age itself makes for a read which is moving, funny – and deservedly has become an iconic book. Probably as much for those looking back through the mists of time feeling relief they are far away from its giddy heights and treacherous plummets.