Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

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What a disappointment! This is the latest in a long line of “classic” books that when I finally get around to reading them, they aren’t worth even a fraction of the praise that has for so long been doled out and certainly weren’t worth the time spent reading them.

Told in the first person by Holden Caulfield, this is the story of – to be frank – nothing very interesting and nothing much happening. The main character is sixteen and the book’s one achievement is capturing something very much resembling the true voice of a self-involved, alcoholic, chauvinistic teenager who doesn’t like anybody but can’t bear to be alone. Unfortunately, that character is not someone you want to spend time with. He’s whiney, unwitty and boring.

He’s been kicked out of his prestigious boarding school after failing everything except English (and if this is one of those semi-autobiographical novels, then Holden should have failed English as well based on this effort). Instead of going home, he checks into a hotel in New York. He constantly goes to bars and tries his luck at ordering drinks. Some bartenders won’t serve him because of his age, others do. He tries unsuccessfully chatting up various women (no wonder, he’s about as appealing as a schnauzer licking his balls and then trying to lick your face), then gets tricked into paying a prostitute for services not rendered, he has breakfast with some nuns, he goes on a date with an old girlfriend who he treats appallingly, he goes to see a movie (even though he’s spent a good portion of the book up until now telling the reader how much he hates the movies), he meets up with an old acquaintance who clearly can’t stand him, he gets ridiculously drunk, he sneaks into his family’s apartment to “chew the fat” with his kid sister, he sneaks back out to go visit an old teacher, then runs away when he thinks the teacher is trying to molest him, he sleeps at a train station, then meets up with his kid sister again and takes her to a playground. That’s pretty much it. The missing subtitle from this novel could have been “A Narcissist’s Guide to New York”.

Holden thinks everybody around him is a phony, which is ironic because he seems to be the biggest phony in the book. He doesn’t know his own true self but he thinks he’s better than everyone without any genuine evidence to support that belief. He clearly has mental health issues in addition to his numerous personality disorders but the author isn’t able to articulate them any better than having Holden constantly describe himself as depressed.

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking it sounded much like the kind of bad novel a teenage boy might write before compiling a manifesto and then going on a killing spree. If you want to read an example of what I think the writer intended to do but done right, I would recommend Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which isn’t a perfect book either but is about a hundred times better and more well written than this.

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