J.D. Salinger is one of those authors that everyone claims to like, with good reason. He’s a great writer and people who are “into books” are generally of the temperament of his characters and so can heavily relate to the issues they face. However, it has to be said that if Salinger was a contemporary writer he would be laughed off the face of the earth.
Gawker and Jezebel would have a field day with his characters. The boys in Salinger novels are hardened on the outside, but inside hold a spacious auditorium of original thought and reflection. They want to kiss prostitutes and tell them about geese in the Central Park pond. They might get kicked out of school, but they’ll love you and Kafka and William James forever.
You can’t teach women that inside the smart, asshole guy is a Zachary Glass. You can have all the Franny Glass Breakdowns you want but he’s not going to quote Rumi at your couchside. In real life that behavior is kind of pathetic. Even Zooey Deschanel couldn’t out-cute the crazy on this one.
For Salinger characters angst and an urgent sense of bewilderment about how to latch their ideals onto reality is a badge of honor. The noble thing is to get to the bottom of this disconnect. The real world term for that is “navel gazing” and it’s an unpopular thing to do. It makes normal people uncomfortable to picture Franny with all her privilege laying on a couch and thinking about her own life when there’s Real Problems on The News.
So Franny is a slacktivist and Zooey is an asshole and I don’t have anything to show for my youth because I really thought these were models of young adulthood. There was something really pure about these characters for me, they just wanted to know what life was all about. How can that be wrong?