The Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 1951

New Novels in the News

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. (Boston: Little, Brown & Co.277 pp. $3.)

By T. Morris Longstreth

Mr. Salinger is a war veteran in his early thirties who has written short stories for The New Yorker and other magazines. This, his first novel, is the midsummer selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. A sixteen-year-old schoolboy, Holden Caulfield, tells the story - with the paradoxical result that is not fit for children to read.

Mr. Salinger says, "All of my best friends are children. It's almost unbearable to me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf out of their reach." Many adults as well will not wish to condition themselves to Holden's language. Indeed, one finds it hard to believe that a true lover of children could father this tale.

Twice there is a reminder of Shakespeare. It has comes near Macbeth's despairing definition of life, "a tale told by an idiot...signifying nothing." And Salinger has taken a more sensitive than normal child, just as Shakespeare took a more than normally sensitive man in Hamlet. It could be debated long just how irrational is Holden Caulfield, as likewise, Hamlet.

Holden, who is the clown, villain, and even moderately, the hero of this tale, is asked not to return to his school after Christmas. This is his third expulsion and he cannot endure to face his parents, so he hides out in New York, where his conduct is a nightmarish medley of loneliness, bravado, and supineness. Jerome David Salinger is an extremely skillful writer, and Holden's dead-pan narrative is quick-moving, absurd, and wholly repellent in its mingled vulgarity, naïveté, and sly perversion.

"The Catcher in the Rye" purports to be the "Seventeen" of our times, though it is as remote in conception from the Tarkington masterpiece, still much alive, as the television age from Indiana in 1916.

Holden Caulfield is so super-sensitive to others' faults that he has no friends, among boys at least. He is as unbalanced as, a rooster on a tightrope. He asks a girl to elope with him and then calls her names. He suffers from loneliness because he has shut himself away from the normal activities of boyhood, games, the outdoors, friendship.

He is capable of love, for a dead brother, for a lively younger sister, for all young things, as his explanation of the book's title makes clear - an oddly psychopathic one, it must be noted. (For Holden has mistaken the words of "Coming Through the Rye," as "If a body catch a body," and fancies himself the heroic rescuer of children in danger of plunging over a cliff in the field.)

But he is also capable of wholesome revulsion from contact with the human dregs, and impulsively seeks a kind of absolution by offering help to others. He hates what is wrong with the movies, and in the end he forgets himself and his hoped-for escape into freedom to help his sister. He is alive, human, preposterous, profane and pathetic beyond belief.

Fortunately, there cannot be many of him yet. But one fears that a book like this given wide circulation may multiply his kind - as too easily happens when immortality and perversion are recounted by writers of talent whose work is countenanced in the name of art or good intention.