A Comprehensive Review of “The Catcher in the Rye”

There are two typical reviews of The Catcher in the Rye that you see. One is

i had to read the catcher in the rye for my english class and it sucked so bad.

The other is

I love The Catcher in the Rye so much. I can see why it became a classic. J.D. Salinger really captured the essence of a teenage boy. I read the book once in high school and have just now gotten around to reading it again as an English professor, and I think everyone in the world should read it too. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time.

…But typically about three times that length. We don’t really have to mention the obvious irony of a 50-year-old English professor claiming to know exactly how the essence of a teenage boy is, so I’ll just jump right in now with my review, which is intended to be a compromise– between the viewpoint of the first reviewer and the competency of the second.

I’m not a discriminating reader. I generally like pretty much any book I read. We read The Jungle last year in history class and everyone says it was the most awful book they’ve ever read, but I kind of liked it. However, I did not like The Catcher in the Rye at all. I think the main reason is that absolutely nothing happens. In this book, we start out with the focus on a guy, Holden Caulfield, sitting there telling us why he doesn’t feel like telling us the story he’s about to tell us. He goes and talks to one of his professors, an old man who picks his nose, and then goes back to his dorm room. Then his neighbor comes in the room and clips his toenails. A little while later Holden decides to leave the school he’s at altogether. This isn’t exactly shocking, because he was recently kicked out for flunking all of his classes except English. I’m surprised he passed even that. The writing style of this book is the turdiest I’ve ever read. I’ve read funny, I’ve read dry, I’ve read florid, and I’ve read boring. But never before had I read a book as told by a moron. This Holden Caulfield seems to know around one hundred words and repeat them over and over again. At least three times in a page he will say “goddam”. He writes as he thinks, too, and the problem with that is that he doesn’t think about anything interesting. After he takes his old, ratty suitcase out of the dorm room and checks it at the subway station, very little else happens, and here’s how it does.

He goes out to a hotel near where he is in New York and, on his way up to his room, he meets the elevator guy, who also happens to be a pimp. The elevator guy sends his least exciting girl up to Holden’s room. She takes off most of her clothes, and they talk for a while about where she used to go to school. Then she puts her clothes back on. A little while later the elevator guy comes back with the prostitute and steals five dollars from Holden. So after that, he goes down to the hotel’s night club and dances with a blonde girl, who, by Holden’s own condemnation, is very boring. All throughout this time Holden keeps making points about how phony everyone is and how he hates phonies. He then leaves and has a date with a phony girl the next day.

He also buys his sister a record, and goes to the museum too. A while after that he talks to a former friend in a boring bar with a pianist who’s phony. He drinks a lot and then soaks his head in the sink. He comes out and drunkenly calls up a girl he knows, offering to help her trim her Christmas tree. After she hangs up on him, he walks through Central Park and drops and breaks the record he bought for his sister. He sits in front of the pond and realizes his wet hair is frozen in the winter air and starts thinking about how depressed he’d be if he died of pneumonia. He decides to go to his sister’s house.

She’s ten years old and the only thing she does is hide her head in a pillow and say “Daddy’s going to kill you” (for getting flunked out). He sticks around for several hours, smoking some cigarettes, and then scrams when his parents get home. Soon enough he finds it’s daylight and leaves a note with his sister’s school’s secretary to the effect that she should meet him at the museum. She does and gives him back a hat he gave her, and then they say goodbye. Then, abruptly, the book ends. Were you looking for a plot? Guess what: There isn’t one! It’s just some stupid kid who swears a lot complaining about how crappy his life is and how phony everyone he knows is. This book might be tolerable if J.D. Salinger had given Holden a less idiotic writing style and made him actually do something, but as it is it’s just a piece of garbage. I have no idea why it’s treated as a classic. I suspect that it’s because it’s a cheap book to buy and thus English teachers value it because they can buy a lot of them for only a few dollars. One thing’s for sure, though: if you’re looking to read something interesting, thought-provoking, good, or even competently written, look somewhere else.

File under: reading, high school


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