The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

the catcher in the rye


I first read this book in September, 2015. It’s been almost two years since I last read this book.
Like so many of other readers, I initially HATED this book. There was seriously NOTHING I could identify myself with, and my Goodreads review back then goes like this:

Quite honestly, I’m not even sure what to make of this – in the beginning, until I reached almost the half of the book, I was kind of mad at Holden because- I swear – there was NOTHING I could relate to him; I neither got to understood his feelings nor felt like trying to see things from his angle.
Yet, when I was past 70 percent of the book, the closer it got to the end, the less disturbed and disgusted I became.
Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like this book, I wouldn’t mind it as much as I did in the beginning.
I may even go back to this book sometime later in my life, who knows I won’t?

I had thought that I would hate this book as much as I did the last time, but quite surprisingly, I actually enjoyed this reread.

First and foremost, his narration didn’t bother me as much; I clearly remember feeling frustrated and irritated by his insolent attitude as though he was making fun of everything, but with this reread, I was curious – the entire time – to know why he acts the way he does, I wanted to pin down where his sarcastic, sort of jaded perspectives come from.

The narrator of this book and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, basically lashes out at everything, literally EVERYTHING. Once he finds something that he doesn’t like, he knocks it right off the bat and nothing escapes his cynical, sarcastic eyes.
At the same time, however, he is sensitive and vulnerable; even the smallest of things can trigger his mood swings and his emotions and feelings fluctuate by the second. One moment he despises everything he sees, but the next minute something tugs his heartstrings and he becomes quite compassionate and appreciative.
I think this second-by-second emotional fluctuation comes from his observant nature and is well reflected in somewhat desultory narration. We get to see how his mood swings and how depressed he gets through his soliloquy, but the author stops short of revealing Holden’s true emotions and the reasons of his actions until we are well into the book. All I got to have up until that point was Holden’s inexplicable, pent-up frustrations and angst the source of which I can’t put my fingers on. Some of you may find this rather frustrating, but that actually worked well for me and made me power through this book.

Like I said earlier, the writing reflects his vacillating emotions and his seemingly stuck-up nature really well. He has a very distinct voice and his perspectives may come across off-putting at first, but as I went deeper into the book, his compassionate, soft nature gradually came into view. I even find him far from apathetic or indifferent. Rather, I assume he is incredibly honest and doesn’t want to do anything at a surface level; if he does do something, he wants to put his mind to it. That is where his aversion to phoniness comes from and it was masterfully narrated. Believe it or not, I was impressed by the writing. I was so invested in Holden’s character this time.

Although I still don’t know where his angst and undirected emotions stem from, I thought what he fears the most was ‘change’ or ‘growth.’
Whenever he observes others acting differently than before, he feels depressed and lonely. While he wants them to stay the way they used to be, they rapidly go through their transitional phase from childhood and adulthood.
He doesn’t want to grow up but he needs to grow up. Such ambivalent, conflicting emotions and the fear of failing to catch up with others torments him and drives him to his impulsive itinerant actions.
I might be wrong, but that’s how I viewed him.

Again, there are so many things that I still can’t put my finger on as to Holden’s emotional process, but his desperate attempts to sate his emotional starvation was acutely felt this time.

“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. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

Sadly, however, it was up to this point I really enjoyed reading this book.
This sequence, where Holden decides to go back to his house and sneak into Phoebe’s room was a watershed moment for me both in a good way and a bad way.
The dialogue that Holden has with Phoebe was pretty eye-opening and enlightening. Phoebe’s character setting is just wonderful. She is smart as a tack for a 10-year-old, I personally found Phoebe much more mature than Holden. A simple sentence, just one single sentence she mentions here cuts right through the truth and takes Holden by surprise; triggered by her question, Holden starts to gush about the reason why he detests phoniness with his own words and this is where I felt that I partially understood Holden.
I thought I would end up liking this book much better than the last time, but then again, there comes another twist and I was yanked back to the square one – another litany of rambling which I felt kind of sorry given the incident he went through but I felt my interest rapidly withering away. The ensuing 20 pages until the end felt pretty tedious and drag if you want to know the truth. 

The ending is kind of hopeful, it does end on a positive note. However, I still felt the ending a bit anticlimactic, or rather, it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions for me, it’s almost akin to indigestion and I was kind of sad about not being able to say ‘I loved it!’ with this reread. Since I was enjoying this book until pretty close to the end, I really wish I could say that I come to love this book.

That said, I am glad that I got to better appreciate this book than the last time.
Apart from the ending, I really enjoyed reading this and I thought it is well-written and gripping.
It definitely has a strong first half and I see the value in it. Only for that, I think I can raise my rating exponentially from 2 stars to 3.5 stars.

If you go into this book knowing what kind of character Holden is in advance, you might not be put off by it as much.
I put my much delightful reread down to having built up a stronger threshold for Holden.