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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Catcher: Is it dated?

I don't even know if you could call it re-reading as I haven't read "Catcher in the Rye" since about 1962. I'm glad to be reading a 15th-printing pb with the iconic cover of Holden Caulfield in his red hunting cap, clutching his "gladstone" (i.e., suitcase), to the left a Hollywood blond sucks on a cigarette beneath a marquee. A very dated cover image! Is the book dated? Yes, of course - but it was dated in 1960, too. Almost nobody who read it and in some way identified with Holden lived anything like the life he led, not in 1960 and certainly not in 1990! Boys prep schools, trains, nightclubs, a 16-year-old renting a room in a Manhattan hotel, calling up old girlfriends, riding in cabs around the city - it's not just that the expense would be prohibitive today except for the very wealthiest of eurotrash and others. It's that it doesn't seem like the life of a 16-year-old - more like a 20+-year-old Army veteran, which is what Salinger was. But I'm not saying Holden's a phony! Far from it. As every reader knows, it's his voice that makes the book so affecting, and also his quirky personality, so tender and sentimental and needy, beneath the veneer of toughness, cynicism, and independent bravado. Salinger's narrative begins at a fork in the road of literature, and from the first sentence he casts his lot with American lit (Huck Finn the obvious antecedent) and turns away from British (David Copperfield). But it's more stylized and internal that Twain; Salinger created an American vernacular hero, whose voice has launched a thousand, a million, narratives: the self-conciousness, the constant attention to his own behavior, the trenchant observations alongside the most overstated, intentionally juvenile generalizations. Many have followed, some with success (Edisto?,Mysteries of Pittsburgh?), but J.D.Salinger led the way.

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