I realize I’m probably about the millionth person to write some sort of tribute to J.D. Salinger since his passing a a year ago ago and while there’s most likely little I can add regarding his brilliant work or reclusive lifestyle, I’d like to throw out the following however inconsequential it might seem.
As a high school sophomore I was assigned The Catcher in the Ryein English class and for the first time ever I felt as though school work had actually crossed over into my real life. I mean this wasn’t Homer’s Odyssey or Julius Caesar in ancient times, this guy Holden Caulfield was a lot like me. Sure he went to different types of schools than I did and got into a lot more trouble than I would ever have cared for, but here in the context of an actual reading that I would be graded on was a living breathing literary character I could relate to. At the time it seemed almost unfathomable.
I’ve read Catcher only that one time which was all that was necessary. The true greatness in a novel can often depend on who and where you were in life when you read it. But in deference to Salinger I pulled it off the shelf the other night if for no other reason than to read the very first line:
“If you really want to hear about it . . .”
From there I decided to search out some of the others as best I could remember them. When found they had clearly stood the test of time:
“I’d never yell ‘Good Luck!’ at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it”
“I’m always saying ‘Gald to’ve met you’ to somebody I’m not all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”
“The waiter came up and I ordered a Coke for her – she didn’t drink – and a Scotch and soda for myself, but the sonuvabitch wouldn’t bring me one, so I had a Coke, too.”
“Every time you mention some guy who’s strictly a bastard – very mean or very conceited and all – and when you mention it to the girl, she’ll tell you he has an inferiority complex. Maybe he has, but that still doesn’t keep him from being a bastard”
Classic stuff for sure but of course my more than 5 year hiatus from reading through these passages couldn’t candy coat things, humorous quips aside there was a lot of anger, frustration, disappointment, denial and depression in Holden’s words also. He was one screwed up kid, no doubt about it. But what I found myself most reminded of was that at age sixteen being a screwed up kid is a relative thing.
Per Salinger’s design we never knew what became of Holden. With his departure the slimmest of hopes that someday we might dies as well. But he’s out there somewhere and always will be. Rest in peace J.D. Salinger, long live Holden Caulfield.