#1. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

“When the weather’s nice, my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie’s grave. I went with them a couple of times, but I cut it out. In the first place, I don’t enjoy seeing him in that crazy cemetery. Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all. It wasn’t too bad when the sun was out, but twice – twice – we were there when it started to rain. It was awful. It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place. All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars. That’s what nearly drove me crazy. All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner – everybody except Allie. I couldn’t stand it. I know it’s only his body and all that’s in the cemetery, and his soul’s in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn’t stand it anyway. I just wished he wasn’t there. You didn’t know him. If you’d known him, you’d know what I mean. It’s not too bad when the sun’s out, but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out.

Chapter 20

It would be stupid for me to try and critically anazlyze The Catcher in the Rye – because, well of course, I’ve no idea what critically analyzing a book entails and also, because it would just be the sort of thing that Holden would hate.  And it’s so easy to decide that because Salinger has sketched out Holden so vividly – so very clearly that if he ever came alive (like in Inkheart) and I met him, I could probably talk to him like I’d known him for ages.

It’s impossible to read the book without wondering whether all of Holden’s thoughts had flashed through Salinger’s mind when he was sixteen. Though no one can possibly claim to know anything about the reclusive Salinger other than his nearest family, his deeply personal style of writing and that eerily unique talent to take us right into Holden’s head has led to the fact that in most people’s minds, Caulfield and Salinger are interchangeable. So much so that the reason why The Catcher in the Rye was never adopted to screen or to stage was explained by the writer Joyce Maynard by the fact that “The only person who might ever have played Holden Caulfield would have been J. D. Salinger.”

I first read the book more than a year back – we were doing a course in Western Classics and each group had to pick a classic to present on. We chose The Catcher in the Rye – primarily because most of us had always wanted to read it, but had never quite gotten round to it. And the first time I read it, I knew it was unique, I knew it was exceptionally direct and I also knew that it would be ages before anyone could write anything as iconoclastic as that. However, I didn’t quite understand the whole mystique surrounding the protagonist of the book was about – to cite a few (rather dismal examples) – “Mark David Chapman’s shooting of John Lennon (Chapman was arrested with a copy of the book), John Hinckley, Jr.’s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, Robert John Bardo’s shooting of Rebecca Schaeffer, and other murders have also been associated with the novel.” (Wikipedia).

I’m not sure when exactly I first realized that there were parts of HoldenI could relate to – but one distinct memory I have is of reading a column in a magazine and wondering rather inadvertently how Holden would have reacted to such phoniness. And that surprised me – I’ve read a lot of fiction and I’ve been fascinated by several characters (Anne Shirley, Katy Carr, Elizabeth Bennett, Heathcliff to name a few) – but I’d never thought of a character in such real terms. In other words, Salinger had fleshed out Holden Caulfield so masterfully that he seemed as real to me as an acquaintance whom I knew well enough to decide that he would be riled by the hypocrisy in the columnist’s words. And that, I guess, is when I realized just how powerful a character Caulfield really is. Which is why I reread the book over the summer and was absolutely riveted.

It would be impossible to not be riveted- even on a third read as I found out over the last two days. Salinger writes with such raw honesty and in such casual confessional terms that you don’t really feel the brunt of the truth he speaks until you’re suddenly haunted by a seemingly-undistinguished line when you least expect it. I’d resolved, when I decided to start on this blog that I’d post my favourite lines from the books I read. But with this book, that’s nearly impossible. Salinger seems to have written every single sentence with such painstaking accuracy, that each of them could be exalted. And yet, he does not write about anything grand or epic – his tragic hero is not ideal – he’s as commonplace, as weak as any of us – and perhaps, it is that mundanity and that pathetic naivete which we see in him and recognise as our own that has made Holden Caulfield one of the most-loved characters in literary history.

P.S – A few months back, soon after I heard about Salinger’s death, I wrote A Red Hunting Hat. It’s a poem that was inspired by The Catcher in the Rye. Do read. 🙂

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