Funny, my thought when I heard that J.D. Salinger had died was not about Salinger at all. I didn't know Salinger (few did), though I'm grateful to him. No, I thought about Holden Caulfield, his greatest creation. I read Catcher in the Rye at 15, and Holden was 17, though he seemed so beyond-me wise in the ways of adolescents -- adolescent boys anyway -- and their efforts to make their way into a psychologically chaotic and morally corrupt world. All his remarks about sex and adults and growing up seemed spot-on to me, though I was immersed in the most stable of families.
True, I didn't go to a prep school, or get expelled (came close once or twice) or, most daringly, hire the services of a prostitute, but Holden spoke directly to me as no oher character had before -- and few have since. I remember talking to a couple of similarly affected friends, and we discussed whether Holden was perhaps a little too judgmental; he was always criticizing people for being boring or vulgar, or, worst of all, insincere. "Phony" was his ultimate term of dismissal.
Since Catcher was published in 1951, Holden would be 75 now, and I'll bet he'd still find much in the adult world phony. And he'd be right.
Oh, and for those curious about the book's title, here's the relevant bit from Holden in Chapter 22:
"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little 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 do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."
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