Doodad Kind of Town

J. D. Salinger (1919-2010)
January 28, 2010, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“You know what I’d like to be if I had my goddam choice?… You know that song ‘if a body catch a body coming through the rye;’? … I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in a big field of rye and all. Thousands of kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye, and all.”

Like many, many other sensitive adolescents, before me and long afterwards, I was once passionately obsessed with the work of J. D. Salinger. And if that obsession now seems to me as quaint and distant as my days in the Girl Scouts, it is no less significant and no less an indication of how my tastes and interests were shaped by his creations.

I first read “Catcher in the Rye” as an eighth-grader; for many years afterwards (well into my college years) I made an annual ritual of re-reading it on New Year’s Day. Tonight, as I write this, my old $1.50 Bantam paperback edition is by my side. On page 172, next to one of Holden’s diatribes on the phoniness of lawyers, there is a note in my own teen-aged scrawl: “Amen! This is exactly why I’m never going to law school!” God, was I ever really that young and that callow?

In time, “Franny and Zooey” supplanted “Catcher” as my favorite Salinger work, and I found myself identifying even more strongly with the fragile Franny than I had with Holden Caulfield. Not for a minute did I believe Franny’s fainting spell was caused by pregnancy, as did her obtuse fiance, Lane. I recognized in her that same overwhelming soul-sickness that I, too, often (and too often, for that matter) succumbed to.

Only years later did I recognize the self-indulgent futility behind those moods, and by that time, the charms of Salinger’s prose had somewhat faded for me. My collection of paperback Salinger titles rarely come out of my bookcase now, their pages increasing yellowed as the years pass. But those four paperbacks, first purchased in 1975, have survived every move I’ve made and found a place on every bookshelf I’ve erected in my adult life. They represent for me an exciting and highly impressionable time in my life when a book could mean everything, and a fictional character could seem like a soulmate.

Revelations about Salinger in recent years have somewhat sullied his reputation. (Joyce Maynard’s memoir of her difficult relationship with Salinger – including unnecessary, TMI-level details of her physical inability to consummate the relationship – is one I wish I’d never read.) But J. D. Salinger – along with Holden Caulfield and the eccentric, preternaturally sensitive Glass siblings – will always occupy a fond space in my imagination and in my heart.

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Yes Pat, as an English major, I've always held this one in high esteemed and in high school read it more than once. What really amazed me about Salinger's passing, were the renewed reports of his fanatical reclusiveness, and supposed meaness of spirit. He was filing lawsuits till the end and ven forned his publishers to keep his photo off the dust jackets. But few books (as you note yourself here) have left such an unforgettable impression. To this day it's taught vigorouly in high schools and colleges.

Comment by Sam Juliano

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