Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Female Holden Caulfield, My Ass

I just finished reading this book about a teenage girl called How the Light Gets In. Lou, a poor girl from Australia with a loutish family, comes to mid-western America as an exchange student, dreaming of starting over with a new life and new personality.

It was good. The end of the book was a little weird -- weird in that way that sometimes when you're reading along, caught up in something, your attention is suddenly drawn to the book as a book -- you start thinking about the novelist making choices. That's not usually a good experience. I guess there's no real reason it should be a bad one, but I don't really go for it.

I bought the book based on the cover:

And also based on the fact that it had won some awards, and so on etc.

Two of the blurbs on the back of the book described the heroine as a "female Holden Caulfield," and the summary part grabbed onto that in describing what the book is like. I have to say, I bought the book despite this, and not because of it. That kind of thing is always a turn-off to me in a book blurb.

Of course, once I finished the book I couldn't help reflecting on the comparison. And, really, there's no similarity at all. Lou is needy -- needy on the surface, not just "crying out for help." Lou writes obsequious notes to her host family hoping to earn a little affection and smooth over being a nervous weirdo. Lou pretends to sleep while her host brother puts his hand down her pants. Lou gets drunk, but partly in order to get over her intense nervousness about auditioning for the school musical.

That last detail alone should have stopped these people in their tracks. Isn't it of the essence of Holden Caulfield that he would not be caught dead auditioning for a fucking school musical? Come on, people.

About the most you could say, I think, about the similarities between Lou and Holden are: they're teenagers; they want to have sex; they're unhappy; they drink. They misbehave.

It's not a long list. I mean, really, "they're teenagers" just about covers all the others, right? What -- "Oh, they're unhappy teenagers who act out want to have sex?! Oh, what a coincidence! A female Holden Caulfield! It's almost plagiarism."

In a generous mood, I think, well, OK, maybe there's something about the internal passive-aggressiveness that reminded people of Salinger.

In a paranoid mood, I think something more like, hey, it's only because we sexistly think that girls don't act out their manias that when we see Lou doing so, we have to compare her to that actor-outer-of-all-time, good old Holden Caulfield. It's true: instead of dieting herself into anorexia, or becoming a "mean girl," or belittling her friends, Lou drinks, occasionally loses her temper, goes for unauthorized walks alone outside, and rolls her eyes a lot.

But really: walking outside the neighborhood alone? Holden Caulfield my ass.

Now, I actually would like to read a book about a female Holden Caulfield: a fearless girl who has money, illusions of total independence, an ability to ignore the pain of others, impatience with the entire stupid world, a taste for totally reckless behavior, and crazy mood swings.

Let me know when it comes out, OK?


Captain Colossal said...

No shit, huh? That would be kind of great.

Anonymous said...

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