The Book Lover

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

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Anyone who has read J.D. Salinger’s New Yorker stories, particularly A Perfect Day for BananafishUncle Wiggily in ConnecticutThe Laughing Man, and For Esme–With Love and Squalor, will not be surprised by the fact that his first novel is full of children.

The hero-narrator of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days.

The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it.

There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices–but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

About J. D. Salinger

Born in New York in 1919, Jerome David Salinger dropped out of several schools before enrolling in a writing class at Columbia University, publishing his first piece (“The Young Folks”) in Story magazine. Soon after, the New Yorker picked up the heralded “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and more pieces followed, including “Slight Rebellion off Madison” in 1941, an early Holden Caulfield story. Following a stint in Europe for World War II, Salinger returned to New York and began work on his signature novel, 1951’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” an immediate bestseller for its iconoclastic hero and forthright use of profanity. Following this success, Salinger retreated to his Cornish, New Hampshire, home where he grew increasingly private, eventually erecting a wall around his property and publishing just three more books: “Nine Stories,” “Franny and Zooey,” “Raise High the Roof Beam, and Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.” Salinger was married twice and had two children. He died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, in New Hampshire at the age of 91.
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