Salinger and the Power of Fiction
(A Book Review of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye)
For generations Holden Caulfield, the “misfit hero” of J.D. Salinger’s highly renowned novel The Catcher in the Rye, has become the symbol of the alienated youth. For me this comic, irreverent, disturbed teenager gave me insight on growing up, the maturity it entails and taught me to seek my own identity in relation to an external world with which I found myself at variance.
Published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye felt so oddly intimate, so very here and now that reading it for the first time completely, whole-heartedly captured me. I guess it was the cover that drew me to it. That somber white cover, with only the title and the author’s name on the front and nary a clue as to what it contains at the back, is to me an equivalent of a nondescript literary safe. Cracking it open, I felt I stumbled upon a secret and from then on the idea that whatever was inside was powerful.
Reading it felt as though that the novel had written expressly for me. The stream of consciousness, the intensity of Holden Caufield’s vision of the world as a haunted and haunting place, the cynicism, the truth and the sorrow, blew me away!
I didn’t know that you could write this way. It was open. So close to the bone — so conversational. The Catcher in the Rye showed me that you could write to someone you’d never met as if you were talking to someone you’d always known. That you could tell a secret publicly and it would still be a secret privately. That you could reveal the most profound emotions in the simplest language, that in fact it was more effective to do it like that. Because then the writer got out of the reader’s way. It taught me that the smallest of gestures could reveal all you needed to know about a character. That humor and pain exist on the page beside each other if not inside each other.
I had never had this kind of literary experience before — the gut-wrenching interactiveness of fiction; the sense that while reading someone’s creation you as a reader and as a person are miraculously known and revealed.
The subject matter of The Catcher in the Rye — one teenager’s angst-filled journey — convinced me that it is the telling that matters. Clearly, Holden knew me far better than my friends. I felt the same way he did; I was much an outsider, as haunted by the deeds done and undone. That was the true discovery when I found that white immaculate book, looking lonely on the bargain bins of Booksale — the power of fiction.
Many have stated that reading The Catcher in the Rye has been a corner stone in their life, and it may have become an understatement to say that this book is life changing. Definitely, this is a book that grows in you and along with you. Different interpretations always comes up when one crack opens the book and our appreciation for it deepens from multiple rereading — a thing to which I attest! That’s precisely the wonder and magic of The Catcher in the Rye — a force in literature especially for such a one that is complex and richly ambiguous in that it may mean many things to different people.
Published by Little, Brown and Company
(Mass Market Paperback Edition: May 1991)
Started: May 24, 2010
Finished: May 28, 2010
Reread in September 2010