Saturday, January 30, 2010

J.D., we hardly knew ye

If a recluse dies in New Hampshire, does he make a sound?

He does if he's J.D. Salinger. Many folks are worked up about his death on Wednesday, but I wonder how many of them even knew Salinger was alive? After all, he wrote a couple of brilliant novels (give or take a few short stories), fled to New Hampshire, and pulled down the blinds over 50 years ago. As far as the reading public is concerned, old J.D. could've died in 1964 or 1973 or 1992.

I believe the reason his death resonates so strongly with people is the notion - 'way back in their brains -  that Holden Caulfield has died. Not true, of course. Holden is alive and raging against phonies. But several generations of Americans have felt less alone in their adolescent angst, anger, and sarcasm, thanks to J.D., Holden, and The Catcher in the Rye. Of course, lots of readers - especially teenagers forced to read CitR for a literature class - have wondered what all the fuss is about. Still, I'm betting the book gets more thumbs-ups than thumbs-downs.

I read Catcher at 16 and at 21, for very different reasons. Loved it both times but wasn't as carried away as some were. (Think: the literary equivalent of Star Trek - Catchies? Ryeies?) I also read Franny and Zooey somewhere along the line. Maybe it's time to pick up both books again, just to see if I can get in touch with my inner-teen. Or maybe that's something I want to avoid at all cost. My marked up copy of Catcher is on my bookshelf. We'll see if it calls to me.

Well, J.D., you old recluse, you made a whole lotta noise when you died in Cornish, New Hampshire, last week. In keeping with Holden's view on flowers and death, I won't be sending any. Damn fine writing, though, sir. Thanks for Holden and Phoebe.

No comments: