Archive for October, 2016

My first book review

When I was in 10th grade, I decided to write a book report as a book “review.” I wanted to be a writer, and this exercise allowed me to pretend that I was. The Catcher in the Rye had been published in 1951, but I wrote my review in the mid-60s as if the book was a new release and I was writing for the Times Book Review.

Today I rediscovered this piece, written in my curly teenage cursive, chock full of cross-outs and carats, in an old steno notebook. It’s quite astute–if a bit clunky. Hey, I was 15! (Note my many digs at “society.”)

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
(Little, Brown)

This controversial new novel offers a poignant character study of a lost, disturbed, sensitive young man. The novel, which has caused a veritable sensation in the literary world, tells in first person narration of Holden Caulfield’s view of the world he’s living in–an impersonal and seemingly pointless society, one that fails to reach the boy or offer him anything truly meaningful.

Sixteen-year-old Holden tells his story from what the reader gathers to be a sanitarium. His tale is an account of his two-day adventure, from the time he walks out of his prep school and including his encounters in New York with assorted characters, such as taxi drivers, elevator operators, a prostitute, nightclub players, a girlfriend, and small girls on roller skates.

10thgradebookreportWhile Holden tells of wandering wayward through the streets of New York City, the reader learns that he, who has rejected what has been offered him–schooling, money, position–and who seems to take little indeed, is actually starving for meaning in life, a meaning which society seems to have encumbered rather than aided.

The story is told in Holden’s own coarse vernacular, totally frank and uncensored, which produces a story only for the mature reader, but which is totally effective in offering a clear perspective of the boy. Mr. Salinger employs such touching humor that he creates one of those rare works which has the reader laughing out loud and weeping, alternately. With his profound sensitivity but frank perceptiveness, Holden strips the people and things he sees of all pretension. We laugh at the coarse bareness and realism of his viewpoint in spite of ourselves; we find him “hitting close to home” repeatedly.

The novel is laudable from another point of view, aside from its profound characterization. It evinces the sad guilt of our society, a society that can strip a boy of all drive and ambition and replace it with loathing and revulsion toward its hypocrisy. This is the society that distracts and controls to the point where Holden’s only ambition is to be standing on a cliff preventing children from falling over as they play in the proverbial field of rye from a Robert Burns poem. When his sister asks him what he’d really like to be, Holden says, “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.”

The novel is not totally pessimistic or without hope, however, and not distorted in its sense of values. One concludes the novel with the impression that though Holden is emotionally disturbed and lost, [he] may not be irretrievably so. The Catcher in the Rye is excellent in all aspects, and worthwhile to the modern reader of fiction. This, J. D. Salinger’s first novel, may well prove to be the first of many fine works by the author.



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