First off, I love J.D. Salinger and all of his books. So I was surprised when, as my step-kids went through that particular reading phase in high school when they were assigned Catcher in the Rye, they reported that they kind of hated it. Whaaaat?
One big problem, they said, was that they couldn't really relate to Holden, the teenage, trash-talking, car-wreck of a main character. As I thought about it, it made sense. I mean, the language is dated. Holden's lifestyle--tony prep school, money, a lot of freedom, doesn't resemble the way most kids live. (Unless you watch "NYC Prep." And here's a tip: Don't.)
I ran across this article in the Times the other day, that speaks, in fact, exactly to the lack of rapport modern kids (Gee-yod that sentence makes me feel old) feel with this book and this character.
So why am I bringing it up at all? Because Catcher in the Rye was the first book I ever read that made me think someone got what it felt like to lose a sibling. I read that book not as the story of a typical disenfranchised teenager, or as the amusing romps of a rebel teen, but as the diagram of a nervous breakdown, brought on by the loss of Holden's younger brother, Ally, to leukemia.
I don't have the book in my office, or I'd quote from it. I'll post a few quotes shortly. But, really, it's heartbreaking, particularly the section from which the book's name is drawn. I never see this aspect of the book talked about, which I find odd. Maybe it's just me, looking for siblings and sibling loss. I am, of course, prone to that. But...I don't think so. Sibling loss is a theme, in fact, in every single one of Salinger's published books and short stories (God only knows what's in the pile of unpublished stories he's reputed to have written.)
At any rate, I was bummed when my step-kids weren't into the book. And I guess it sort of saddens me to see it get dated in the eyes of so many. But, for me, as a bereft sibling, it will always be relevant. Give it a read if you've got the time. And read Salinger's other stuff, too. It's well worth it.
Not long ago, I got off a plane in Phoenix and confronted the words “Ted is Here,” painted on a pillar in bright orange. I almost cried. Ted, I realized, was the name of a budget airline. But it was also my older brother’s name.
My Ted died of an immune disorder 27 years ago, when I was 14 and he was 17. His story, along with that of another boy in Texas, were merged in the movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” (Which my family did not authorize.)
Like most people who’ve lost someone they love, I’ve always wanted him back, or at least present, in some way. As a kid, I wished for a spectral sighting. As a young adult, I sought out psychics and mediums, one of whom once instructed me to ask Ted to give me signs that he was still present. Once, I asked Ted to show me a clown. Two days later, at a coffee shop, I looked up and realized I was sitting under a clown mural. My elation was short-lived, however. Had Ted contrived it, or had I unconsciously found myself a clown?
I’m not making a case for the supernatural here. But seeing that “Ted is Here” sign gave me the old I-see-the-clown feeling again.
This blog, which I’m launching on May 27th, the anniversary of Ted’s death, is an invitation to those who knew him—and those who didn’t—to share their thoughts and memories about the Ted they knew, or the Ted they imagined. Hearing about him, knowing that others are carrying a bit of him around with them, is another way of keeping him present. Honestly, I’d like that much better than seeing a clown.
I’ll also be posting thoughts and commentaries on siblings, sibling loss, families and grief—subjects I have, not surprisingly, become interested in. And for those of you who’ve read my book, The Empty Room, which tells my story and those of others who’ve lost siblings, I welcome your thoughts and messages.