In memoriam–J.D. Salinger

31Jan10

I remember, I was fifteen years old when I read Catcher in the Rye. I was in the midst–OK, the start–of my own adolescent rebellion and alienation . . . the key words everyone uses when they talk about that novel.

What was most vivid to me was that Holden Caulfield was someone I knew. I could see parts of myself in him. I almost stopped reading during the prostitute episode because the feelings of shame and embarrassment and fear were almost too intense. And the relief at having Phoebe to talk to in Holden’s parents apartment was palpable. What I don’t remember was whether I felt like Holden was selling out part of himself or coming back to the part of himself that really connected with people at the end of the book.

Salinger got the voice right. He got the character right. And the fact is, I think that he was right to make the discussion all about the book, so that Salinger’s elegy, in the end, had to  be about the things he wrote, not the life he lived.

I do think that Catcher in the Rye was the first YA novel, though it wasn’t published, or to my knowledge even written, that way. But it treated Holden Caulfield with respect and let him tell his own story.

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