Hold 'Em in the Caul, Field

I still think there's something creepy about Holden Caulfield. What's this business of catching children before they "fall" into adulthood-- when the world needs more adults, not fewer? Or Seymour Glass, waking his wife Muriel from her shallow slumber in a particularly ugly way?

I can imagine Holden (if he stays out of jail) ending as a basement-dwelling iconoclast, proud to be smarter, more "authentic" than the rest of us suffering monkeys, part of the cast of High Fidelity or the local comics shop. Given his social class, Holden might end as Jerry Rubin did, praising Charles Manson and then graduating to embrace Reagan and Wall Street, albeit with a Saturday Night Live ironic twist to his mouth. Is it unkind of me to wonder if Rubin was sneering when he was hit by a car?

Am I the only one annoyed by Salinger's twee characters being made of, well, Glass? I know Seymour had a tough war (Salinger himself was part of D-Day), but does that excuse spattering even the silliest of women with a mess of brains? Better to volunteer for pharmaceutical experiments if you want to throw yourself away. Why not rush into a fire, or find a leper colony like Graham Greene's Burnt-Out Case?

The Canadian Phillip Marchand has some thoughts on the American man-child. Salinger himself managed the equivalent of a James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, never sullying his reputation with lesser work (as someone said of Elvis' death, "good career move")-- but not dying, enjoying his royalties in private, apparently a pleasant enough life with friends and family.

I would have liked Holden better if, having rejected the phoniness of straight society, he picked up a shovel and scooped shit at an animal shelter, or sorted clothes for the homeless, or even (cough) tried to teach in the public schools. Holden creeped me out when I first read Catcher in middle school-- I preferred Irving Stone's Michelangelo and VanGogh, or T.H. White's King Arthur: sensitive, maybe doomed, but not likely to surrender.

I still prefer genre writing to the finger-sniffing stories of "New Yorker" fiction. The wounded detectives, from Spenser to Travis McGee to T. Jefferson Parker, expose the truth like Holden but then try to do something about it. Even the silliest super hero, as Michael Chabon makes explicit in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and implies in Wonder Boys, is at least pretending to be a grown up, picking up their imaginary cosmic shovel or rescuing a kitten from a tree to make the world a better place. Salinger reminds me of those people who don't like kittens because they turn into cats.


CSECooney said...

This entry made me bounce a bit. I am particularly fond of 9 Stories, but I always associated Holden with Beevis and Butthead. Couldn't help it. Never DID read Kavalier and Clay but always wanted to... The one I really want to read next is Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

Michael Fountain: Blood for Ink said...

I can't say enough good things about "Kavalier and Clay" and "Wonder Boys". Sherman Alexie, I guarantee, will make you laugh aloud no matter how awful things are. "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" s another good place to start.