Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

So begins the quintessential teenage angst novel. Oddly though, most teenagers do not like reading it. I didn't like being forced to read it in high school. All I remembered before rereading it as an adult was that it had swearing and a gay scene. Teaching teenagers today, I'm always confronted with frustrated, disbelieving and annoyed teenage faces when they are made to sit through a reading of the book. Perhaps this is because it is a little too close to home, or maybe it's because its themes are self-evident to the teenager and therefore a bore. Most likely it's because teenagers are just as confused as Holden is. It's like trying to read a book on how to swim when one is in the middle of the ocean during a bad storm. The book, therefore, is better understood and appreciated once its readers are old enough to distance themselves from the whole horrible experience of teenagehood and are able to look back upon it as it really was. When read in middle age, The Catcher in the Rye, suddenly makes sense.

One of the first things that readers may notice is the length of the first line. Most people say that the number one rule of writing is show, don't tell. This novel begins with almost five pages of telling, but as it reveals character and not merely back story but the state of mind of the protagonist the average reader is fascinated, being able to get a glimpse into the mind of a kid who is, to put it mildly, a little off his rocker. So in conclusion: This telling technique thing is not all bad, depending on how a writer uses it. Of course it doesn't hurt to be able to write like Salinger.

After reading the line, what is most apparent is the mood and the tone that is captured; it's what makes this line famous, revealing a sort of apathy most kids and those who were kids can identify with. As well, even though Salinger probably worked and reworked his first draft into a second and third etc., this line and the rest of the book has a feeling of being improvised, as if the novel were an interview given off the cuff and the narrator is just letting it all out however.

The only downside with this opening line is the feeling of preamble, akin to some of the writing of the late 19th century that this opening line seems to attack; nevertheless, internal character conflict and external conflict soon unfold. In fact, despite the preambly nature of this line, it indicates an internal conflict that something about the narrator is not right.

First thing said:

"C'mon, c'mon, somebody open the door."

Verdict: Pass

This is from the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list and in what order, but his reasoning is as good as any. The Catcher in the Rye comes in as the 94th greatest book of all time.

Theodore Moracht

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