Thursday, January 28, 2010

Still Looking For The Elusive Bananfish

I'll admit, my first reaction to the news of J.D. Salinger's death was puzzlement. It wasn't that I was surprised he was still alive until now, I have heard about the recent lawsuits after all. It is that, for a long time, I considered J.D. Salinger to be one of those people whose cantankerousness and reclusiveness kept him going. He could not die as death would prevent him from guarding his privacy and protecting his unpublished work from the prying eyes of an adoring public. So I can't help but wonder, now that he has passed, will we see all the novels and stories he has written over the years? It goes without saying that I would expect anything he has been writing to at least equal the work that has come before and one hopes that his characters, conflicted and complex as they were, grew and found some contentment. Because it is hard to remain angry at the world forever. Holden Caulfield's anger at the world is appropriate at 17, it is not so appropriate at 35 or 91. The passion of youth is something we should all try to hold onto, but we also have to work to forgive those around us and make the world a better place. If there is any lesson from his work, living in the world and loving the people one encounters is the only salvation we have. Unfortunately, it is a lesson J.D. himself did not seem to learn and he will be remembered as much for his rejection of the world as he will for his literary gift to the world.

I have not thought of The Catcher In The Rye in awhile. I'll admit, love it as I did, I grew to dislike it because so many of my classmates in high school loved it too and felt such a connection to it. It bothered me greatly that so many people who I perceived to be the phonies Holden railed against had the audacity to suggest that they felt an affinity with him. I wanted to hold up a huge mirror and shout, "see how you are," but since I could not, I just moved on to Salinger's other works, works all those plastic people never bothered to check out. But as time has passed, I find my feelings have softened, or perhaps, my understanding has grown. Adolescence sucks for almost everyone and no matter how easy someone seems to have it, they aren't necessarily able to see that. We all think we are alone in our confusion and, unbeknownst to us, everyone else is confused as well. Holden was a rich boy dropping out of prep school, his complaints could easily be disregarded as whining self-pity, yet it resonated with so many of us because while we didn't have his exact set of experiences, we knew exactly what he was feeling. Confusion, pain, self-hatred, self-pity, a sense of superiority? Yep, I was feeling it. And maybe if I had stopped wallowing and looked around, I would have seen that so many of the people around me were feeling it too. But maybe this is one of the gifts of hindsight.

And while the fact that Holden Caulfield's middle name was Morrissey is almost too perfect, there is a song by a different artist from the eighties which does a much better job of distilling teen angst and dissatisfaction into four minutes of new wave melodiousness. Yes, it is self-indulgent to hear Nik Kershaw tell us that he's got it bad, we don't know how bad he's got it (and yes, I want to say something flippant like "maybe next time you'll get the flu vaccine, Nik"), but we all know what like to be sick of fighting and to have a broken spirit frozen to the core and wouldn't it be good if we could live without a care?



Also, I learned recently that this is one of the best songs to do one's grocery shopping to, something about the tempo makes it perfect for pushing a cart through aisles, which only goes to show that angst and anger is noble and all, but over time, it all fades to consumerist ennui.

P.S. All Things Considered had a couple of lovely remembrances for J.D. Salinger. Read and listen to them here and here

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