Hurricanes/Catcher in the Rye
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I've just finished reading LibraryThing and Books Compared member Theresa Williams' novel The Secret of Hurricanes, a slender, emotionally dense story that makes me think of Salinger. I was never a huge fan of Catcher in the Rye, but aspects of it have lingered in my memory decades after I read it, so Salinger was clearly doing something right. Both Hurricanes and Catcher are written as first-person narratives, and both capture the hypersexed and slightly frantic quality of adolescence, Catcher from a male and Hurricanes from a female perspective.
Pearl, the narrator in Hurricanes, is a middle-aged woman looking back to the most frightening time in her life, while Catcher's narrator is still in his teen years. Nevertheless, Pearl's girlhood does not seem very distant from her, and she describes it with the emotional immediacy of a narrator looking back over a much shorter time-span. Part of the immediacy may be because Pearl is less intellectual than Holden Caulfield, who adopts the cynical stance of an immature philosopher observing his own and other people's behavior with a certain amount of (largely feigned) dispassion, and part is because Pearl has more harrowing events to tell the reader about than Holden does.
Another difference between the two novels is the mosaic-like quality of the narrative in Hurricane, compared to the more traditional tapestry-like narrative of Catcher which carries us through a few precisely observed and described days in Holden's life. In Hurricane, the short scenes are sketched rapidly but vividly, and skip from one emotional high point to the next, slowing the pace slightly only for scenes that reveal the mature Pearl's life. She is still a rebel, but a rebel who has learned how to defend her psyche better.
In both novels, the teenaged protagonists look for sex more as a way of engaging with a human companion than to assuage their physical urges and also, ironically, as a way to obtain some degree of respect.
A lot of coming-of-age novels have been written, but few are as unsparingly honest as these two.
margad: I just noticed this. I'm quite honored to be compared to Salinger. No way you could have known this, but I did my Master's thesis on Salinger. It is called From X to I: The Evolution of Salinger's Narrative Method. It is not on The Catcher in the Rye but rather his short stories.
I only read Catcher after I had turned twenty-four. It had a deep impact on me.
Your second paragraph is telling. While I love Catcher, I find that cynicism is poisonous for me. I couldn't let Pearl engage in cynicism too much because it would have been too hard for me to write. HURRICANES is my first book, so I stuck more with my philosophic stance on things.
I very much appreciate your doing this review. It's lovely work.
I read Salinger's short stories first and much preferred them to The Catcher in the Rye. Some of the characters in the short stories are cynical, but the overall perspective is not cynical at all. My favorite has always been "To Esmé with Love and Squalor." The title sets a humorous tone, and the story does carry that through. But I also found it deeply moving.
The returning soldier has been through a lot worse than squalor, and might easily have been offended by the child's precocious self-confidence and her taste in stories. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, someone once said, and combined with innocence and presumptuousness, it can easily offend. I had the impression, reading the story, that the soldier found the child's innocence healing and redemptive - reflecting back on it now, I think it was the soldier's own generosity of spirit that was redemptive.
A favorite student of mine always signs his e-mails to me, "With Love and Squalor." (smiles). The scene before the narrator becomes Sergeant X, when he describes Esme's pretty gestures and her brother's animated bordom ,is unforgettable. Salinger's Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters has also been a favorite of mine. I used to try to write like Salinger, to greatly ill effect!
Yes, she had a smile of "qualified radiance" (though I may not be quoting Salinger's exact words) that was a stunningly apt image. It's been years since I read that story, but it stays in my mind. I loved Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters. It was on my father's bookshelf, and I read it as a teenager. Many of those stories have lingered with me.
It's futile, of course, to try to write like another writer. But not necessarily a bad exercise. I don't know if copying the paintings of past masters is still an expected step in the training of artists, but I believe I read that Picasso's training started that way. And look how he turned out!
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