This was a book a remember starting to read in school but for some reason never finished it. I figured that it probably was a boring, overly wordy classic like many of the others that come to mind. But boy, was I wrong!
The story follows and is narrated by 17-year-old Holden Caufield how has just been expelled a few days before Christmas break from yet another boarding school, this time, Pency Prep for poor grades.
Given that his parents won’t receive the letter for several days yet, Holden decides to lay low for a few days before heading home to face their wrath. Now Holden is kind of a misanthrope – at times he seems to be disgusted by humanity while at other times, he’s fascinated by it.
Holden shares with us his encounters with teachers and fellow students of Pency, and in so doing, he definitely doesn’t hide his dislike of people who are fakes and pretenders, or, as he would say, phonies, which in a way makes him seem older and more mature than his age.
So after an altercation with his roommate, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night, and with money in his pocket, takes a train to New York and checks into a somewhat sleazy hotel. Holden then tells us what he did during his last day at Pency and the few days following his departure.
Through his first-person narrative, we learn about his oldest brother D.B. who’s living in California, his younger brother Allie who died when Holden was thirteen, and his little sister Phoebe. It’s funny that he hardly even mentions his parents — but perhaps in not mentioning them, he is actually saying something very important about his relationship with them.
What I Liked
This is the perfect example of voice in writing — it felt like I was hearing these words right from the mouth of Holden and I have to say that reading this book brought out my inner fifteen-year-old. There were certain parts of the book where I caught myself laughing out loud hysterically at his running commentary, his exaggerations and hyperbole, and his unique insights about the world, all peppered by his use of colorful language.
I just thought his descriptions and comments were so rich but they were also quite interesting and captivating.
I know there are plenty of people who hate his character and personally, I don’t get it. Maybe it’s just that I found his juvenile humor and his candor refreshing — and really, really funny. I love Holden Caulfield’s personality and how straight to the point he is, often shockingly so. Yes, he’s blunt, pessimistic and a tad crass but some of what he says is actually quite wise.
Now I will say that if you’re offended by the word “goddam” (his spelling, not mine) then this book definitely is not for you because, probably second only to “bastard”, this was one of Holden’s favorite words.
It also tickled me to no end how he was always putting on his crazy red hunting hat and asking everyone where the all ducks went when the lake froze in the winter. I thought his red hat was a wonderful reflection of his offbeat and unique personality.
Though some people might find Holden to be spoiled and more than a bit affected, I think more than anything else he’s misunderstood, especially by the authority figures in his life. It’s clear that he’s not only disappointed by the world around him, but he may be possibly depressed as he begins to see what the world is really like. Trying to understand Holden Caulfield is no easy task.
He has recently lost a brother and appears to be disillusioned — if not let down by the people who are supposed to be role models. He’s desperately trying to find his way in the world and is often confused by his own ever-changing feelings, sometimes hating his friends one second and then loving them a few moments later. In fact, he once asked himself “What am I, a madman?”
Given that he’s at that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood, he’s also ambivalent about his sexual feelings, perhaps fearing that partaking of that act would thrust him into an adulthood that he’s not ready for.
Feeling more and more alienated and lonely, he calls up old friends in an attempt to find someone who makes him feel, as he describes it, “not so depressed”. Ultimately, however, every one he contacts let him down in one way or another.
Now he’s a spoiler, so if you haven’t read the book, you may wish to stop here or scroll down to the “Final Verdict” section.
Okay, you’ve been warned.
At some point — I can’t pinpoint exactly when — the tone of the book turns from lighthearted and humorous, to more and more serious as Holden’s emotional state begins to unravel. At some point, I felt like I was reading the story of a boy who was in the process of going through a nervous breakdown.
And I think I was right. At the end of the book, Holden mentions how he got sick after he went home, and how “this one psychoanalyst guy keeps asking me if I’m going to apply myself in September.” He also says, “I could probably tell you…what school I’m supposed to go to next fall after I get out of here” which certainly indicates that he was institutionalized at the end of the story, but whether he’s referring to a mental institution or a hospital we can only guess.
I personally suspect that his grief over his brother’s passing and the reaction of his family surrounding that event may have had a serious impact on him. Of course, that’s just my speculation.
What I Didn’t Like
To be truthful, I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like. Oh sure, I could get on my high horse and say that I found the cursing utterly offensive. But that would be a big ass lie. On the contrary, I found it to be a brilliant part of Holden’s character and its usage added to the story, rather than taking away from it. But again, if cursing offends you, then this may not be the book for you.
The only thing I disliked was that the novel was too short — I wanted more.
I think that one of the reasons this book may be a classic is that it’s timeless. Though it was written in 1951, it feels fresh, as though it could have been written yesterday and in it, I feel Salinger expertly captures the mind and essence of a teenage boy, whether it be one in 1951 or 2018. The prose was beautiful and left me wanting more.
In summary, I loved, loved, loved this book and in my opinion, it’s a masterpiece. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it.
Holden was so real to me in all of his crassness, his jumbled meanderings, his random musings, his digressions, his improper grammar, his obsessive need to lie about everything (especially his name) and his general confusion about life.
I was so sad to see this book end and in leaving Holden, felt as though I were saying goodbye to a dear friend. Yes, I will definitely be rereading this one, probably several more times. This was truly a fun book to read, and I gave it 5 stars.
This was transcribed from a video review on my YouTube channel “Roger’s Reads”.