"Some of my best friends are children," says Jerome David Salinger, 32. "In fact, all of my best friends are children." And Salinger has written short stories about his best friends with love, brilliance and 20-20 vision. In his tough-tender first novel, The Catcher in the Rye ( a Book-of-Month Club midsummer choice), he charts the miseries and ecstasies of an adolescent rebel, and deals out some of the most acidly humorous deadpan satire since the late great Ring Lardner.
A lanky, crew-cut 16, well-born Holden Caulfield is sure all the world is out of step but him. His code is the survival of the flippest, and he talks a lingo as forthright and gamy in its way, as a soldier's. Flunking four subjects out of five, he has just been fired from his fourth school.
Afraid to go home ahead of his bad news, he checks in at a cheap New York hotel; in the next 48 hours, he tries on a man-about-town role several sizes too large for him. Getting sickly drunk at a bar, he slithers away in a Walter Mitty mood, pretending:
When the seedy night elevator man proposes sending a young prostitute to his room, bravado makes him play along. Besides:
His enthusiasm for that kind of fiddling practice fades in hopeless embarrassment as soon as the tart snakes out of her dress.
Scolded by testy cab drivers, seared by his best girl's refusal to elope with him and surrounded by an adult world of "phonies," he loses control of his tight-lipped histrionics. He sneaks home for a midnight chat with his perky ten-year-old sister, breaks down and cries on her bed. In a moving moment, he tells her what he would really like to do and be:
For U.S. readers, the prize catch in The Catcher in the Rye may well be Novelist Salinger himself. He can understand an adolescent mind without displaying one.