I don’t remember exactly when I first laughed involuntarily while reading ‘Catcher In The Rye’, but it was on a trip somewhere, probably early maybe earlier, and that book was badly needed. I had never read anything like it before. It was one of the books which changed my fiction-reading standards to the point of renouncing the merest formulaic hair, or at least what I thought to be the merest formulaic hair at the time. And its language existed as proof of something beyond any immediate and endless claustrophobia. I lived in the book and I did not want to leave. Most fierce supporters of a favorite writer will deeply mistrust anyone else’s version of what makes the writing so great, and I think particularly with Salinger, this intense protectiveness is always welcome and encouraged by the very Salinger that exists in his stories, in the constant re-reading of them, and the personal reading voice of the reading brain and body. The stories are full of impossibly self-aware youth perhaps, but with enough fragility and slapstick coarseness to give every obssessed speech the greasy smear of bad skin, the cold numbness of a cut palm, the sting and acrid smell of a crammed medicine cabinet, the drunk sweat of heat-exhausted guests in a tiny living room, the greying crud of shaving scum, the moldy smell of a bumpy chest, the flakey existence of sad messes, the prosthetic impotence of false eyelashes, the nausea of others’ violence and true apathy, the existence of which is all part of the breath and hair and toenails of every line.
excerpts from ‘Seymour An Introduction’:
There are, however, readers who seriously require only the most restrained, most classical, and possibly deftest method of having their attention drawn and I suggest – as honestly as a writer can suggest this sort of thing - that they leave now, while, I can imagine, the leaving’s good and easy. I’ll probably continue to point out available exits as we move along, but I’m not sure I’ll pretend to put my heart into it again.
But on this occasion I’m anything but a short-story writer where my brother is concerned. What I am, I think, is a thesaurus of undetached prefatory remarks about him. I believe I essentially remain what I’ve almost always been – a narrator, but one with extremely pressing personal needs. I want to introduce, I want to describe, I want to distribute mementos, amulets, I want to break out my wallet and pass around snapshots, I want to follow my nose. In this mood, I don’t dare go anywhere near the short-story form. It eats up fat little undetached writers like me whole.…when I read my new short stories aloud to him it was his unwavering custom, once in every story, to interrupt me in the middle of a line of dialogue to ask me if I knew that I had a Good Ear for the Rhythms and Cadences of Colloquial Speech.
And again, an excerpt from a letter Salinger once wrote as a reply to the idea of filming ‘Catcher In The Rye’:
There are readymade “scenes” - only a fool would deny that - but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it, his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener, his asides about gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartons - in a word, his thoughts. He can’t legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique. True, if the separation is forcibly made, there is enough material left over for something called an Exciting (or maybe just Interesting) Evening in the Theater. But I find that idea if not odious, at least odious enough to keep me from selling the rights. There are many of his thoughts, of course, that could be labored into dialogue - or into some sort of stream-of-consciousness loud-speaker device - but labored is exactly the right word. What he thinks and does so naturally in his solitude in the novel, on the stage could at best only be pseudo-simulated, if there is such a word (and I hope not). Not to mention, God help us all, the immeasurably risky business of using actors. Have you ever seen a child actress sitting crosslegged on a bed and looking right? I’m sure not. And Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biassed opinion, is essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn’t nearly be enough. It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it. And, I might add, I don’t think any director can tell him.
from other writers:
“I am in awe of the strange and not so subtle way we have carried this quiet sagacious lion with us like some beloved, worn stuffed animal and have woven his words, his way of thinking, inexorably into our DNA—we are all his characters, we are all Holden Caulfield, Seymour Glass, and the whole Glass family.”
“But what struck me most was how wounded they were—if you could be wounded, exquisitely—with what seemed all the thorny emotion of life, of the world. I hadn’t quite understood life to be like that, until Salinger. And I realized then that I had grown up a little.”
“Salinger was probably weary of people wanting to claim him, which may be one reason that he stopped publishing.”
“The secret to Holden’s authority as a narrator is that he never lets anything stand by itself. He always tells you what to think. He has everyone pegged. That’s why he’s so funny. But The New Yorker’s editors were right: Holden isn’t an ordinary teen-ager—he’s a prodigy. He seems (and this is why his character can be so addictive) to have something that few people ever consistently attain: an attitude toward life.”
“Holden, after all, isn’t unhappy because he sees that people are phonies; he sees that people are phonies because he is unhappy. What makes his view of other people so cutting and his disappointment so unappeasable is the same thing that makes Hamlet’s feelings so cutting and unappeasable: his grief. Holden is meant, it’s true, to be a kind of intuitive moral genius. (So, presumably, is Hamlet.) But his sense that everything is worthless is just the normal feeling people have when someone they love dies. Life starts to seem a pathetically transparent attempt to trick them into forgetting about death; they lose their taste for it.”
“emotional without being sentimental, dramatic without being melodramatic, and honest without simply being obscene.”
“The honesty and sincerity that Holden cannot seem to find in others he tries to maintain within himself. Holden often makes a point of using the word “really” to assert the fact that something is really so, to prove to the reader that he had not become a phony himself. Holden is distressed often by the occasional realization that he too, must be phony to exist in the adult world. With regard to the insincere “Glad to’ve met you” formula, he comments that “if you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though”.”
“His problem is one of communication: as a teenager, he simply cannot get through to the adult world which surrounds him; as a sensitive teenager, he cannot get through to others of his own age.”
“the bathroom scene in “Zooey” is perhaps the consummate example of this hermeticity. As if the space of the bathroom was still not small enough, there is a space-within-a-space formed by the shower curtain drawn around the tub in which Zooey sits with a lit cigarette parked on the soapdish. The scene is one of the most remarkable mother-and-son scenes in literature.”
“For Salinger, failures of language advance the horror, vacuity, and despair of modern life”
“Nowhere else in Salinger’s fiction does he more intensely present the paradox and dilemma of modern man: to speak is not to express; to employ forms of expression is often to evade the difficulties of significant communication”“his realization of the essential obscenity of life itself”
“escaping from other-directed mass society by learning to perceive reality from the inside, by learning how to find meaning from within”