I’m breaking one of my rules, because this isn’t a new book for me. It’s one of my favorite required readings in high school. Something about the way it’s written and the ending really resonated with me when I first read it, and I decided to reread it for the first time since high school.
For those of you who may not know, The Catcher in the Rye is an American classic by J.D. Salinger. He manages to capture the teenage lingo of the 1950s perfectly while telling a captivating tale. It’s a relatively simple story about an unmotivated boarding school student, Holden Caulfield, who follows his every whim and emotion while exploring New York City just before schools let out for Christmas vacation. As he wanders about the city, Salinger takes on an in-depth tour of Caulfield’s mind and emotions, which is where the true story lies.
Holden sees the truth in people. Sure, they may be great, but everyone’s got that one thing that just knocks them down a few pegs in his eyes. He can spot those little flaws a mile away, the little things that make them a lesser individual for it. He’s not afraid to express his distaste, either. Over half of the story is tangled in these rambling, winding thoughts about his family, his old classmates, the people he’s around. He describes the people he interacts with with fleeting simplicity, yet he’s so confident in his description that you can’t help but see what he sees, clear as day. There are only two people he manages to describe without any hint of fault, but I won’t spoil that. You’ll just have to read the book and see for yourself.
The arrogance and disdain he holds towards other people would be readily apparent to anyone Holden interacts with. However, Salinger writes The Catcher in the Rye in Holden’s perspective, completely in first person. That’s where the brilliance of this book shines for me. Up until that point in my life, I had never read any books with such a unique voice.
Plenty of authors write from a first-person point of view, such as D.J. MacHale’s young adult series, The Pendragon Adventure. The narrator tells the story from his level-headed perspective, with actions and purpose driving the plot forward as opposed to emotion. If someone magically dropped me into that same story, I would see what the narrator sees. There’s little reason not to trust the narrator.
Salinger, however, writes Holden’s story with every single raw emotion infused into the narrative. Every observation, every action, every word is laced with his jaded personality. I would not see the same things as Holden sees in the same situation. That’s the hold this story has over me: until I read it, I had never thought the narrator could be untrustworthy. I had never read a book where the narrator could be so warped that he or she may not exactly see thing the way they really are, and that shocked me. To this day, I still find Salinger’s work brilliant.
The other big thing about this story that sticks with me is how different the ending is compared to most other books I had read before, even literary classics. Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play. Jay Gatsby dies unceremoniously and unremembered. Something big and dramatic happens at the end of every Harry Potter book. The Catcher in the Rye doesn’t do that. I won’t give anything away, if you somehow haven’t read the book. I’ll just say it taught me that a story doesn’t have to end in some big, obvious climax.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, this novel is a classic that most Americans read in high school. It’s the coming-of-age story of a fully realized young man whose name is synonymous with teenage angst. Hell, people still pay homage to it in other books, tv stories, and video games, from Holden Caulfield’s name to the red hunting hat he sports. If you’re looking for something brilliant and moving, give this piece a read. You won’t regret it.
If you’ve read The Catcher in the Rye, let me know what your thoughts are.
I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I hadn’t read it, I’ll add it to the list!