Thank you to my lovely, procrastinating sister for passing on this article about JD Salinger’s wartime years.
My past with The Catcher in the Rye is a mixed one. I first read the novel in American Literature in the 10th grade and, like many adolescent girls, loved it. How daring Holden was! He cursed! He was so deep–he FELT things! I read it again as a freshman year in college and, although I did not gush as much (I had read The Bell Jar by then. I knew from tortured.), I still had a little crush on Holden.
But returning to Catcher after graduating college (and working with actual teenagers) I no longer found Holden as endearing. And, as I tend to do, I began to reject Catcher in the Rye because of its popularity with its peers. I’m not mainstream. I don’t like things other people like, I like alternative-y things. Side note: this is why I didn’t watch The Office until last year, and why I still won’t watch lots of shows. This is probably at least part of the reason I don’t like Jonathan Franzen (not the whole reason, though).
Yet despite my dismissal of Holden and Catcher in the Rye in general, whenever I see an excerpt of it or any other Salinger work I’m reminded of how much I really enjoy him as a writer. Holden may no longer be the object of my teenage rescue fantasies, but Salinger is still a writer who evokes emotion in me. The article talks of a story Salinger wrote during the war as part of a series about Holden (although, like this one, not all follow the Catcher in the Rye timeline). In it, Holden’s brother (after Holden’s been missing in action) meets another young boy who is presumed missing, and he tells him “Just go up to somebody—and tell them you’re Here—not Missing, not dead, not anything but Here.” How beautiful, tragic and real.
I was happy and not really surprised to learn that Salinger and Hemingway (my favoritest of favorite authors) knew each other during the war and that, while he eschewed Hemingway’s misogyny, Salinger was deeply influenced by Papa’s writing. Holden may rail against A Farewell to Arms, but Salinger admired Hemingway. Maybe this is why I find myself liking Salinger so much when I return to him. Both write in that beautiful, spare prose that I love and both consider the psyche of bruised people. Nothing much happens in Catcher in the Rye when you really think about it, and many of Hemingway’s books have lackluster plots. But, when they’re successful, both authors explore the thought process and emotions of characters that are more complex than they appear at first notice.
I think I’m going to give Salinger another chance. I may try Catcher again but I’m leaning toward Franny and Zooey, a favorite among my Salinger loving friends.
Oh good, another book to add to the list!