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If, at a certain time in your life, Holden Caulfield was a hero of yours, you may find out you have far exceeded that teen-angst exemplar in post-
adolescent accomplishments: At least I hope so, for your sake, and the sake of your parents.
The product of J.D. Salinger, Caulfield was the protagonist of “The Catcher in the Rye.” A serial boarding school reject, Manhattan rich kid and hater of all things “phony” and “crumby,” Caulfield, in his sexual and romantic confusion, inability to fit in and slacker failings, is a perfect teen hero for any teen who doesn’t feel heroic.
A lot of us who grew up geeky, alienated and disgusted with the utterly lame values of a society that didn’t value us nearly enough have, for the past 60 years, idolized Holden.
But there was never much Salinger product for the addicts. He wrote and published little — about 20 short stories and a few novellas in addition to “Catcher.” And after 1965, he didn’t publish any new writing at all, although he lived until 2009, dying at the age of 91.
Salinger also became a recluse, moving to Cornish, N.H., in 1953, two years after the highly successful “The Catcher in the Rye” was published. He socialized less and less over time, pursued a changing menu of mystical and culty religions, alienated a few wives and one of his two children, and generally got a reputation as one of the great American oddballs.
And, apparently, he wrote.
A biography titled “Salinger,” to be published next week, cites two independent, separate sources saying new works by the author will be released periodically, between 2015 and 2020. The additional works are said to include another Holden Caulfield novel, along with stories about Salinger’s other great literary invention, the Glass family.
My first thought was: “Wow, how exciting for me and my teen-era friends.” Then I grabbed “Catcher in the Rye” off the shelf, reread it and found that, while I still enjoy the book, I don’t much relate to Holden’s feelings anymore. I continue to believe many things in life are phony and crumby, but as an adult I can’t dwell on it. If I did, I’d be an angry recluse in Cornish, N.H.
“Well,” I thought, “it will be great for my daughter that there is so much more Salinger for her to enjoy.” She just turned 12, so she’s scheduled to begin despising me and all the cringing bourgeois values I represent some time in the next 24 months. She’ll be ready for as much literature as she can get to back up her opinion.
But the more I think about it, the more I fear a novel about an older Holden Caulfield won’t be any good, for anyone.
Where there is Caulfield, there is Salinger, because “The Catcher in the Rye,” the author admitted, is largely autobiographical. And Holden is a perfect literary focus point for any teen questioning society’s values while awash in emotional discomfort and hormones. This book, still selling 250,000 copies per year, has touched a chord with three generations of readers over six decades.
But what will we hear from older Holden, the literary reflection of a man living an ever-more eccentric existence? Salinger, in his final 45 years, feels like that teen friend that never let go of the bile and immaturity enough to enjoy being grown up. Although Salinger did have millions of dollars from “Catcher” to keep him off the couch in his mom’s basement.
Will we find Holden grew up or just got older? As a teen (and to teen readers), his laziness and hysterias, his lying and his bitter, drunken baying at the faults of the world were refreshing. But those traits in an adult wouldn’t make him a special kind of hero. They’d make him, at best, Salinger, and at worst, everybody’s least favorite brother-in-law.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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