I don’t know how she got me to reread it other than by being so damn interesting when she talks about it. She teaches Catcher in the Rye to her students, and they all hate her for it – I remember the feeling – but I just stare at her thinking, “No shit? You got all that from that one page of text?” Maybe I have tunnel vision or something, but she’s not the first woman to tell me to reread Salinger. She’s just the first one to make it seem worth the effort.
To tell you the truth, I don’t know that I ever really read it in the first place. I remember it being assigned. I remember owning a copy. I remember taking a test and passing it. But I’m fairly certain that I read it the same way I read everything back then that wasn’t Stephen King creepfests or sci-fi fantasy short stories. What I’d do – and tell me if this sounds familiar – is skip around, looking for details from the middle and the end of the book, so when it came time to answer those annoying old essay questions, I’d seem like I’d at least gotten through the thing, even if I didn’t understand it. They don’t expect kids to really understand that kind of literature, do they? My teachers were just happy with the appearance of trying.
Anyway, I bought a copy of the book. An actual book! Because you can’t find it on Kindle or Audible (my preferred “reading” method these days), and it came in a box with all of the other weird crap that I buy – a Henley shirt because I look good in them, some castor oil to see if I can get my beard to thicken up, and some red suspenders so I won’t show off my crack at work. I put on the shirt and smeared some goo on my cheeks, and then I took a picture of the book to show her that I mean what I say. She was excited. I’m excited that she was excited.
I got all of four pages into the damn thing before I started laughing. I began by reading it the way that I read most things, skimming over the words until my brain decides to latch onto an interesting point, forcing me to pay closer attention. Before I knew it, though, I was reading it out loud like I was practicing monologues for some big production, pausing here and there to go back and say each line how they’re really meant to be said. Saying them how I think Holden goddamn Caulfield would say them! And every other freaking sentence, I was stopping to think, “Hey, that’s an interesting little piece of imagery,” and, “Is that how they used to spell goodbye, or is that some kind of symbologism too?”
Either way, there I was laughing at myself, and I thought, “I gotta write this down.” I was struck by the part where he’s just looking for that good-by feeling before he leaves the place that doesn’t want him anymore. He can’t move on until he gets that sense of closure. He doesn’t care if it’s a good feeling or a bad or a sad feeling, just as long as he feels it. And how does it come? In the simple memory of playing catch with some friends as the sun sets. That’s it. A little slice of sentimentality. He’s got his good-by (and I still want to think that’s a funny way of spelling that word).
So, Mr. Hofflebrock, why’d that tickle your “Huh…” button? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll try and work it out here. When learning to write, I experimented with every tip and trick in several different books. I’d have the characters cross over water. I’d show a house burning down. I’d do something, anything that would show the reader that this character was in this place where they were just primed up and ready for something to happen, whether they like it or not. In flux. In transition. Open to noticing things they wouldn’t otherwise notice. Open to saying yes to something they’d never say yes to, or they’d say no to something and surprise the heck out of anyone who knew them well. It’s effective. It’s simple. It’s formulaic as all get out, but cliches are cliches for a reason (even the cliche about cliches being cliches for a reason). Anyway, I always leave it sort of open-ended. Whatever came before is still scratching away at the door. Maybe that’s something about how I live my life. Maybe I’m exposing my psyche, I don’t know, but reading this first chapter about Holden getting a sense of closure so that something new could happen (even if he takes all those old feelings and thoughts with him into the next thing – and who doesn’t?) it just… I don’t know.
You ever get the feeling that you’re a character in a book? Or a movie, that’s maybe better to ask of a lot of people, nowadays. But you’re reading this, so I’ll stick to the book thing. Anyway, so you’re a character in this book. And maybe you’re the main character, or maybe you’re just some subplot, but you’re in this book, and the pages are moving along, and things are happening, and… I keep wondering where my story really picked up. If someone bothered writing it down, they gave me some backstory, gave me some personality, gave me some water to cross or a fire to walk away from or a hill to stand on while I say my good-by to my youth or whatever. Do I get to decide? Can I just sit up and say, “Ya know what? This state of flux I’m in now, even with this sudden sense of closure, I’m ready, man. I’m ready for some aliens to come down or some espionage intrigue or something emotionally riveting to take over. I’m ready for something new to start so I can see how it ends!”
Does that make any sense at all? I dunno. I’m probably overthinking it. I’m gonna cross this street now and disappear in the snow.