|see? i identify with this.|
Likewise, upon strength of recommendation from a friend, I dived into J.D. Salinger's work this week. He is best known, I believe, for The Catcher in The Rye. I've read that and am now halfway through Franny & Zooey. Since I entered Catcher not knowing anything about it, really, except that it was generally regarded as something People Should Read, I had no preconceived notions about what it would or would not be. My initial reaction was that Salinger is a darn good wordsmith. The best way I can describe the way his writing effects me is that it feels like soda bubbles up one's nose. It's unexpected and fresh and totally different than most anything else I've ever read. My second reaction was that I, too, could write like Salinger if I replaced all my adjectives with swearing. My third reaction was that Catcher's main character, Holden Caulfield, was a boy who'd grown up too fast. His morals are questionable at every turn, but his heart is gold. I know that sounds like an anomaly. Perhaps it is. But what I saw in the character was a boy who has rushed headlong into the world and its many pleasures and yet finds himself confused by the hollow chaos and unsure how to handle how he feels about it. He is kind-hearted. He is smart. He is empty. He is generous. He has known tragedy and he has known happiness, in some small way. The kid's winded, that's for sure. He's going to kill himself presently if he doesn't get a grip, but I had a soft spot for Holden Caulfield.
Thus ran my mind as I closed The Catcher in The Rye and totted the name on my List of Books Read in 2016. Later on I looked up the book online to see what the GP (General Populace) thought of it and found that, apparently, I took away the wrong takeaway from the novel. It is reputed to be a manifesto of teen rebellion; the most censored book of the baby boomers' era; the mental ramblings of an obsessed kid; an inspiration for several shooters, including John Lennon's killer. And I swear to you most earnestly, I can't figure out why on my own. Once I looked up a couple articles, of course, I saw what they meant...if you're an over-thinker and like to overthink things. I mean, if you want to think hard enough about a grape, I guess you can decide it's a raisin and you wouldn't be wrong. You'd just be scrutinizing it past the point of good sense. Or maybe my difficulty is that I don't scrutinize much at all. I'm perfectly happy, if it's a good story, to take the story at face value. I like discussing deep things and ulterior motives and various interpretations, but I'm what Shakespeare would call a "pleasant-spirited lady" and I don't like assigning sketchy backstory to people helter-skelter. I'm more than willing to believe you are what you appear to be, until you give me a reason to think otherwise. I mean, take Holden Caulfield. Yeah, he's an emotionally unstable person given to hyperbole, but you don't exactly go around asking people if they're mad, do you? My problem is that characters become very real to me and I treat them, subconsciously, as if they were real acquaintances. I can imagine my friendship with Holden Caulfield going this way:
Me: "Hello, I'm Rachel."
H.C.: "What're you *%#% introducing yourself to me for?"
Me: "Oh, I thought you looked lonely. It's a little cold out here. Want to step inside?"
H.C. looks at me and shrugs.
Me: "Let's go."
We step inside, camera shifts, H.C. shudders some rain off his coat.
Me: "That's a dashing hat. Very red."
H.C.: "Why the &$#@$@ does everyone comment on my hat? Isn't a fella allowed to wear a $%#$3 hat every once in a while if he wants to?"
Me: "Well, it's a very nice hat."
H.C. begrudgingly: "Gee, thanks."
I'd come away thinking that H.C. was a bit of a crab, had a great many peculiarities, but was probably a fairly nice person on the whole. I wouldn't sit there and psychoanalyze him and start getting a pathological fear of people who wear red deerstalker hats and try not to go home so they won't get into trouble with their parents for flunking out of yet another school. I mean, don't get me wrong: Holden Caulfield has problems. But I think I'm the one about to develop a paranoia of letting madmen go undetected. The really disturbing part is when, like with the quote above, I identify with the supposedly nut-so character in question.
I hate the fact that I don't pick up on subtle cues in literature. I'm not a great one for symbolism. I like people to say what they mean but I don't mind if it has two or three meanings. I like complexity. But I'm also not going to assume that when you put a character in a red hat he bought in New York City, that he needs a psychiatrist. I mean, give a man a sartorial break. At any rate, this is why I don't do book reviews on my blog; I always seem to come away with quite a different impression than the author intended and I'm not sure what that says about me. So now I want to open up a discussion and ask you: are you one of the dedicated G.P. that foresee the psychological conclusion of a character like Holden Caulfield or are you more like me: a woman a bit shy to clap the shackles of a sanitarium on a person who hasn't proved himself in any concrete way to be a total loony?