I’ve noticed that The Catcher in the Rye is one of those stories that people either love or hate.
For example, the following extract is from an important announcement made by the spokesperson of the “I hate J.D. Salinger” camp (as posted on Wikipedia):
“…The [Wikipedia] article gives the impression that the book is good, but in reality it’s just about a kid who doesn’t try at school and then complains that his life is going nowhere but does nothing about it. The story is really stupid.” —18.104.22.168 00:03, 30 January 2010 (UTC).
Had the rival camp issued a rebuttal – an unlikely occurrence, as such action would have had to permeate their mandatory 16 hours of indifference per day – it would’ve stated that The Catcher in the Rye was the revered angsty teen messiah they’d all been waiting for. Further, it would have pointed out, the messiah has been prophesised to deliver heroic teenagers from the dreaded Day of Doom: the day, ladies and gentlemen, when they would have to take responsibility for their own lives! Needless to say, this camp’s official name is ‘Apathy and Hair Straighteners 4eva!’.
(Remarkably, or maybe not, both parties agreed on all points except for their undying love/hate of the book).
How does one eensy-weensy book, at barely 200 pages long, inspire such feeling?
First, some background: the entire book was written in the first-person narrative of Holden Caulfield, a school failure. Holden is very opinionated about everyone he meets, completely fails at saving money, and likes to hide out from his parents in New York.
Actually, David Bader summed up The Catcher in The Rye in One Hundred Great Books in Haiku. I included the haiku below because it matched Holden’s tone exactly, and I’d just bought Bader’s book, and, also, haiku!
“I flunked out again.
Crumby prep schools. Bunch of dopes.
Boy, I’m not kidding”
The thing that I’ve been putting off telling you, is that I didn’t love or hate Salinger’s novel. And I’m not a lying liar who lies, I’m simply an unreliable narrator. Yep.
Here’s the deal: I didn’t enjoy reading the book, and I didn’t enjoy reading it because it was depressing, and it was depressing because it was a story about depression.
Sure, both the ‘I hate J.D. Salinger’ and ‘Apathy and Hair Straighteners 4eva!’ camps like to fixate on the teenage-ness of the book, and I’m not denying that Holden deals with the issues that have always been lovingly described in the special torture known as the coming-of-age story, but these aren’t all the book is about. Holden was suffering from depression in a time when the condition wasn’t understood and no treatment was available.
In that sense, the book was both insightful and painful. Holden had a nervous breakdown, was chucked in a loony bin for his troubles, and certainly got no better. That is why those people who think of The Catcher in the Rye as only a teen story are making the book far less than it is – they key is that Holden could have been any age and still suffered from the same problems.
I wouldn’t read The Catcher in the Rye again, but, conversely, I’m also cynical about a movie doing the book justice.
‘Apathy and Hair Straighteners 4eva!’ is only the latest in many different names for this particular group of people. Its current incarnation was a result of the recent popularity of ’emo’, ‘indie’ and ‘hipster’ kids. In spite of this, the ‘I hate J.D. Salinger’ camp name had never changed, probably because members possessed very little creativity between them – don’t forget that it was this camp that made The Catcher in the Rye the most banned book in schools, even whilst it was the second most assigned reading text in the U.S.