J.D. Salinger Would Have Been 100 Tuesday
"The Catcher in the Rye", J.D. Salinger
Fred Lapides ripped off the commemorative screed from behind WaPo’s paywall for you and me.
[New Years Day was] J.D. Salingerâ€™s 100th birthday, but Holden Caulfield is still 17. The iconic teenager of â€œThe Catcher in the Ryeâ€ is forever suspended in the amber of our youthful alienation.
Although a few pious schools continue to ban Salingerâ€™s only published novel, for millions of adults, a faded copy of â€œThe Catcher in the Ryeâ€ is a sweet teenage treasure, as transgressive as a trophy from band camp. Ninth-graders who secretly read the book with a flashlight when it came out in 1951 are now in their 80s.
To read it again as an adult is to feel Holdenâ€™s pain lingering like a phantom limb. His righteous cynicism is adolescence distilled into a sweet liquor. But the novel also feels like revisiting your first house. The familiarity is enchanting but discombobulating. The story is smaller than you remember, and some details you had completely wrong. But whatâ€™s most striking is how common the novelâ€™s tone has become over the intervening decades. Holden is Patient Zero for generations infected by his misanthropy. We live in a world overpopulated by privileged white guys who mistake their depression for existential wisdom, their narcissism for superior vision.
We have met the phonies and they are us. …
itâ€™s not clear how Salingerâ€™s reputation will evolve in the new century. As usual, time helps, e.g. we can ignore Ernest Hemingwayâ€™s behavior; we canâ€™t ignore Sherman Alexieâ€™s. The biographies have tended to leave two impressions: Salingerâ€™s fiction is even more autobiographical than we thought, and Salinger himself was even loonier than we suspected. Homeopathy! Acupuncture! Dianetics! In 2013, David Shields and Shane Salerno suggested that Salingerâ€™s undescended testicle could help explain his entire life. â€œSurely,â€ they wrote, â€œone of the many reasons he stayed out of the media glare was to reduce the likelihood that this information about his anatomy would emerge.â€ (Someone asked on Twitter, â€œWhy didnâ€™t he just wear pants?â€)