Jerome David Salinger, called Sonny by his family, died a few days ago at age 91. His longevity is ascribed to macrobiotics, megavitamins, the Orgon Box ( invented by a New School professor- Wilhelm Reich) and drinking his own urine. For me, none of his personal affects, his hatred of publishers, his number of marriages and taking up with an 18 year old girl , mean a fig to me. What matters, as I have said elsewhere is his confounded silence after so many years.
The media is rife with explication of Catcher in the Rye, whether Holden Caulfield was a nutcase, the almost monologist tone of the book, its speaking directly to those of that age, and so many other editorial playlets. I read Catcher when I was seventeen and a freshman at Queens College. It’s imagery of upper west side of Manhattan, private school and teenaged angst meant nothing to me. The title of the book and Holden’s aims came to mean more to me as my life was directed by the catcher in the rye syndrome.
I was more affected personally by his other works- Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenter and, Seymour and Franny and Zooey and especially his short stories- Bananafish, To Esme with Love and Squalor and the Laughing Man. I am not sure why that was. There was something about the short stories that was truer to my life than was Catcher. The stories drove daggers into my psyche and made me feel things that I had never felt before. In a convoluted way, it made me feel more alive to read them and think about them. I even started to tell my children about the Laughing Man as a continual tale as they were growing up. I told it to campers as a camp counselor. I embellished the story and could have written sequels, prequels and movie scripts, but didn’t. It was all oral story telling and maybe that is what J.D. Salinger did on paper. They were stories of people with problems done with real emotion.
For those who know me well, the term Catcher in Rye would have some meaning. It dawned on me in my early thirties that my search for my mentor was over. I looked in the mirror and discovered that he was with me all of my life and still is. Salinger further confirmed that for me with this title, Catcher in the Rye, and I filled in all of the blanks.