The Syd Barrett of literature has died. As reported yesterday, JD Salinger, literature’s most famous recluse, passed away at 91. Since Salinger largely vanished from the public eye, though not its imagination, before I was born, it’s hard to gauge his impact on my own writing.
Salinger was tied to another author of a 1950’s classic in my mind, that being Jack Kerouac. The similarities are there. Both Holden Caufield and Sal Paradise were of the same era and, albiet at different points in their lives, trying to figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up. I read both The Catcher in the Rye and On the Road after I’d turned 40.
Some would say I wouldn’t be able to get either book reading them so late in life. That’s not true, however. While I found Holden to be an annoying, self-centered brat who blames the rest of the world for disappointing him, it’s not like I didn’t go through that phase myself. And I had a happier adolescence than Holden. In the beginning, Holden realizes that people are putting up a front and starts calling them out on it. It’s not hard to sympathize with him. By the end of the novel, though, Holden doesn’t seem to realize he’s just as “phoney” as they people he accuses, using the epithet to lash out at anything and anyone he doesn’t like. Like I said, I don’t like the kid. I loved the novel.
I didn’t like On the Road or its protag. Sal and his merry band are celebrated as rebels at the dawn of a new age in America. That may be so. I also had my own rebellious phase in life. It didn’t involve indisciminately knocking up and abandoning women, stealing and/or destroying cars, or admiring a parasite like Dean Moriarty. I didn’t like the characters (except maybe Old Bull Lee), and I didn’t like the story. I suppose I don’t connect to the Beat generation, which would probably shock any wingnuts who’ve read my scathing criticism of those who’ve destroyed the conservative movement in this country. (That’s another rant.)
So I didn’t miss Kerouac. I do miss Salinger. There was always that hope that we’d find out Holden’s fate. Maybe we will if the estate opens up the vault. It’s possible Holden accepted his loss of innocence and became the forerunner of Gordon Gecko.
Hmm… That sounds a bit like a Dave Zeltserman novel. Oh, Dave…