"I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, i swear to god i will"
- Holden Caulfield
Well this book was nothing like what I expected. The only thing I knew about this book prior to reading it was that Mark David Chapman was holding a copy of it when he shot John Lennon, so maybe a crime thriller? If I based any predictions on the title, I would have guessed it was based on a farm somewhere, but as anyone who has already read it knows, it has nothing really to do with either of them.
The story is based on Holden Caulfield, a student at an all boys boarding school who is informed that he is being expelled from school. Following a confrontation with his roommate, Holden leaves in the middle of the night and returns to New York where he lives and meets a number of characters while keeping himself occupied for a number of days before he returns to his parents. The pace of the story doesn’t really alter throughout the book and is written almost as though it is a journal where Holden literally pours his thoughts onto the pages, often repeating himself to emphasise that it is the pure thoughts and experiences of Holden.
At first I thought Holden was a bit of a miserable bastard who just needed to cheer up, and then he started experiencing a number of things that I could relate to, especially when he refers to how he hates people. He says he can hate many people but it doesn’t usually last long and he soon misses those people he hated when they weren’t around him, and I thought fuck that’s how I am, I’m the miserable prick. I became slightly hooked at that point, not because of the storyline but because it seemed that Holden was struggling with his relationships with the people around him and how he was very sporadic with the way he acted around each of them. I’m glad I’m not like Holden in some ways though, for example, when Holden arrives in New York he decides to fill his time with meeting people, anyone who would be willing to do so, whereas I wouldn’t do that, I’d just sit in a park somewhere or walk around aimlessly by myself until I decided to just return to my hotel room and get messed up by myself, but that’s me.
The repetition of sentences such as ‘they/he/she killed me’ and ‘I kid you not’ kind of annoyed me at first but it didn’t take long to realise that this way of writing had a purpose and once you realised the pace of the story then it made a lot of sense and really worked. Despite feeling animosity towards everyone, there was one person he truly loved and that was his little sister Phoebe who he secretly met on his return to New York. I instantly related with their relationship due to living so far away from my little brother who is only 13 at the moment. It kind of made me a bit sad and a bit guilty. On one hand I liked Holden because I could relate, but on the other I didn’t like him because I thought he was a bit of an asshole for the way he treated people, the same way I tend to treat people, as though he’s a misanthropic philanthropist.
I kept expecting something bad to happen in the end, something that may have occurred in the story that would make someone kill in real life, but nothing like that happened, instead something beautiful did. Holden met up with Phoebe in the museum and they spent some time together after she cried due to him planning to leave that afternoon. They soon patch things up and Phoebe asks Holden if he meant what he said moments earlier when he tried to stop her crying by saying he wasn’t leaving anymore, and he doesn’t leave. He returns to his family and takes whatever punishment his parents hand out to him for being kicked out of school, all for the love of his sister. It was a happy ending, but it was a sad ending for me as well. I feel guilt all the time for leaving my family, especially my brothers, and this story kinda threw that guilt in my face, but Holden was running away to nothingness, and although the situations are different I still can’t help but feel a bit guilty after reading this book.
One part I couldn’t quite figure out about Holden was his age. He was in school, and he was able to pull off getting served alcohol, but he seemed to be able to get alcohol all the time despite him always saying he was underage, plus its based in America and they have different words for their schools and different age limits on smoking and drinking. He seemed very mature at times but also very immature at others, at some points he even reminds the reader that he can be mad at times after he does something that we would perceive as childish. It wasn’t a big issue but the tone seemed to not line up occasionally, but maybe that was done on purpose and I missed it at certain points.
The true magic of the story is the change in Holden from the beginning to the end, he learns a lot about society in a short amount of time as the book covers the events of a week or so only. My opinions on the book changed drastically too, I started reading with the expectation of murder and darkness and after reading the first chapter thought that it was going to be a ‘soft dark’ story, you know one of those stories people say are dark but when you read them they seem tame because you have already read and seen the real darkness that the internet and writing has to offer? Yeah, I thought it was heading to be one of those types of scenarios. It wasn’t like that at all, the story is about Holden Caulfield trying to find his place in this world. Nothing more, nothing less.