Thursday, January 28, 2010

"I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life."

J. D. Salinger, the man who put those words in the mouth of his most famous protagonist, Holden Caufield, died today at the age of 91.

While I have always thought that The Catcher in the Rye is an overrated book, it is quotable. And some of the words Holden Caufield utters ring true, even if he's admittedly a terrific liar.
All morons hate it when you call them a moron.

Indeed they do.

People never notice anything.

I'm glad somebody noticed that. Of course, since we're dealing with a self-admitted terrific liar, you have to account for the possibility that Holden Caufield never noticed anything either. And often the most corrosive lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves.

Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.

It's not often that a man gets to write a fitting epitaph nearly 60 years before his own demise. Salinger spent nearly the last 50 years hiding from flowers and hosannas, walking away from the fame he'd achieved in the 1950s. As far as the larger world was concerned, Salinger might as well have been dead. And now that he has finally died, his works will come to life again and gain a larger audience than the occasional high school English class that seems to encounter him now. I don't think that is truly irony, even though irony is a deeply debased word, but I have to imagine that the old recluse might find it all somewhat amusing. And I'll bet that someone brings Salinger flowers, maybe even out of spite.

In a deeply dishonest world, sometimes a terrific liar is a useful guide. RIP.


my name is Amanda said...

Good post!

I liked the book well enough, but I've always disliked the attitude that it's held up as one of the great novels of the 20th century AND the quintessential novel of adolescent alienation.

Novels with female protagonists do not receive that kind of acclaim (although great novels with female protagonists DO exist), and Holden is hardly a typical teenager - not only does he not represent the female adolescent experience, he has rich parents and an expensive prep school education.

This puts me in mind to go back and read it as an adult, though.

Mike said...

I would have to re-read it. I remember liking it as a teenager, but it wasn't earth-shattering or anything.

But, with the passing of J.D. Salinger, that leaves only one other living person of some fame with whom I share a birthday...Grandmaster Flash.

Night Writer said...

You know, I've never read it. I didn't read it in high school because so many of the kids were saying, "You HAVE to read this!" so I didn't. Perhaps Holden will understand.