Thursday, January 28, 2010

R.I.P. Holden Caulfield

J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zoeey, Nine Stories, and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters died today.I think that's pretty much the extent of his work. But what a great collection. Definitely quality over quantity.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Catcher is every teen's alter-ego. I know that's going out of a limb saying that. Holden was the image of white, preppy America and I wonder if Black America would agree with my statement. But I'm willing to wiggle out on that limb because even me as a working class teen identified with Holden and his angst over dysfunctional America.

So how's this for dysfunctional: As a teen I pretended that Holden and the entire Glass family were my family. They were smart and urbane--everything my Midwestern family wasn't--and their intelligence put them outside the norm of that society for which we all aspired but still felt kind of creepy about wanting. There was Seymour, the mystic who committed suicide, Buddy the older brother/writer, Zooey the actor, and strong, fragile, beautiful Franny--I wanted so much to for them to be my brothers and sisters. And Bessie, dear Bessie, their crazy New York mother who carried packs of cigarettes and lighters and wrenches in her apron pocket.

Zooey, though, was my favorite. He was a talented actor, and his intelligence though made him angry and slightly depressed. That was the thing about all of the Glass children, how their intelligence was as much a curse as a blessing, and how they wore their depression so well. No wonder I admired him so much. In Franny and Zooey, Zooey soaks in the bathtub and rereads a long letter Buddy wrote to him. The next scene, Bessie barges in on him, and he recites that hysterical line, I see me dead in the rain. After reading that I took to reading in the bathtub, carefully turning the damp pages of a book as carefully as I would a cherished letter from my brother.

My sophomore year in high school I chose Catcher to read and report on for my AP English class. AP stands for Advanced Placement. Brainiac English students. And the teacher was...skeptical...about the book. I later dropped out of AP English and went back to the hoi polloi of science fiction (Dune) and creative writing.

The best part I liked about Salinger's work is that every bit of it was just stellar, each story was as good as the other, and of course him insisting on being a recluse from society will always score major points in my book. He offered up his work, then turned his back. I guess he felt like he didn't owe society anything, and didn't want anything from society either, so remarkable in this era of vapid egotism in search of empty fame.

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