If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is that I never read Catcher in the Rye at school. To tell the truth, they made me read Heart of Darkness instead and so I think that’s pretty lousy now. But now that I’ve read this literary classic, I got a few thoughts about it.
So everyone I know who read this aged 14 thinks this is a crumby book, and Holden Caulfield is a grade A slacker asshole. But I’m 30-*mumble* and I think they’re all wrong, for Chrissake. For one thing, if you didn’t have this book, you wouldn’t have a template for all brooding YA heroes to come, or that angsty guy from all those old films. You know who I mean. I know films are so corny and all, but his ones are pretty decent, to be honest with you.
The funny thing is, halfway through this, I picked up one of my husband’s lit fic books – you know, the ones with the solid Yale types being all sad about nothing – and it had everything folk think’s wrong with this book. Some guy drifts about into hotels, drinking and chewing the fat with people, and snowing whatever pretty girl came his way. Only, nothing happened. At least Holden’s got a plan, even if it falls to bits because he makes crap life choices.
See, old Holden’s really a smart kid. He’s good at English – he even does his roommate’s assignment for God’s sake – he knows folk that buy lots of Martinis and talk about the MPG of their cars are massive phonies, and he’s just one big equal opportunities misanthrope. But under all that chattering – I mean, when you really get down to essay-writing levels of critique – you realise it’s what Holden’s barely talking about that’s the whole point of the thing, and not bits where he’s being mean to girls or winding up cab drivers. God, it’s like when he just casually drops in stuff about his brother dying and him punching all the garage windows out in a rage that you end up hollering WAIT BACK YOUR ASS UP A SECOND CAULFIELD AND EXPLAIN FURTHER.
Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.
Holden might be a colossal asshole, but he just wants to stick himself in a glass case where his brother’s alive, there aren’t teachers creeping all over him, and it’s just him and his kid sister and his suicidal thoughts. Oh, yeah. I know he doesn’t want to talk about it much, but this reader’s going to be an annoying sonuvabitch and poke this hornet’s nest:
Anyway, I’m sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.
Let me tell you, Holden, there’s things in 2017 you wouldn’t believe, like mad orange Wotsit men in charge of the big red button. That guy kills me. And you should see the guys all over social media. I mean, that goddam boy only went and predicted the below-the-line internet trolls.
But I swear, under that toxic masculinity Holden is just a massive ball of mental health issues that need unpicked by one of those psychoanalysts. And we don’t talk about that crap, because it’s more important to poke young men and tell them not to swear so goddam much and apply themselves, when actually they might be a bit traumatised by a sibling dying or teachers being inappropriate with them in an era where being ‘flitty’ was illegal and, to be honest, it’s kind of alright that you end up staring at your handsome roommate and that pianist in the bar, or just have a chat with a prostitute, because inside you’re completely screwed up, adults that were meant to love you have done the opposite, and now you want to jump out windows to make it stop, like your classmate.
(I know this other pretty messed up fictional teenager. You’d like him. Actually, maybe you wouldn’t.)
At first, I thought ‘hey, I’m nowhere near like this guy, I just worry about tax returns and literary rejections’. Then I remember he’s actually met stuck-up squares that just don’t get that maybe you do want to give this learning thing a shot, but maybe not when someone’s belittling the hell out of you. That’s an annoying thing about the circles I move in sometimes. Some folk act like a horse’s ass about everything:
These intellectual guys don’t like to have an intellectual conversation with you unless they’re running the whole thing. They always want you to shut up when they shut up, and go back to your room when they go back to their room.
Oh, and I really got a bang out of the sheer amount of controversy in the whole book. The number of f-bombs in the museum scene was more than my whole manuscript. I bet my main character would love that.
Maybe Holden has more in common with modern unlikeable characters than I thought. Hell, I just finished The Island by Olivia Levez and I wanted to dry-slap Frances, she was so mean. I bet Holden would think she was a real bitch. Or try and date her. But she was a ball of insecurities too. Hey, maybe Holden should meet my main character sometime. Though it’d probably end badly. I just have this feeling. I swear to God.