Finally, I got around to reading The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger. It wasn't what I thought it would be. From all the vague and nervous whispers about it, I got the impression that it was about a serial killer who hid in the rye to murder and molest any passers by. There had to be some molesting involved, as mere murder would not warrant the guarded way the book was spoken of.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this story is set nowhere rural, let alone in fields of rye. It is not even in Scotland where, I believe, the folksong of the title comes from. No. It is actually set in New York.
Nor is it about a serial killer.1
The narrator, at sixteen, thinks a lot about sex, but he's actually quite chivalrous. No molesting actually happens.
Instead, it is about a sweet but sad and sick boy trying to work up the nerve to tell his parents he has been kicked out of school, again. As the story progresses, we find that it's not that his parents are in any way cruel or unloving, it's just that he has been kicked out of so many schools that his future is becoming an issue.
One of his brothers has died of leukemia, which, by itself, would be enough to explain his lethargic attitude to school, his hatred of hypocrites, his search for some kind of meaningful connection with other people. However, what we, as the reader, are allowed to know at the start of the book, but which the narrator himself didn't know at the time of the events he is describing, is that he is also suffering from TB.
The first few chapters are boring, but once Holden leaves school and gets out into New York, the story turns into one of those pleasant reads about nothing in particular. When it runs out of steam, it stops, showing very good judgement on Salinger's part.
The early chapters are boring, and it was hard to persist with the book, but, in the end, it turned out to be a wonderful sustained character portrayal. I can see why the book became a classic.
1Obviously, a joke about 'cereal killers' is just begging to be inserted here, maybe along the lines of a Tom Lehrer type ditty of poisoning the rye, but, fortunately for you, gentle reader, I cannot think what it is.