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Catcher in the Rye and Its Influence on One Author

I just wrote an apotheosis of J.D. Salinger, where I said that The Catcher in the Rye was an enormous influence on 85A. But I also want to make clear that 85A is not a Catcher rewrite or rip-off.  In fact, I’d already written the first draft of the book a couple weeks before I went back and read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time in almost twenty years. It’d also been about as many years since I’d even thought about Holden Caulfield.  (I’m more of a Franny and Zooey man myself.)

But in the spring of 2008, right before I’d launch into the second draft of 85A, I was on a train from Provence to Paris with my partner Julius.We had a two or three hour ride ahead of us, followed by seven hours on a plane back to New York (with a couple stopovers in Paris brasseries in between). I’d prepared for the long trip ahead by picking up a copy of Catcher at an English-language bookstore in Avignon. I figured it’d be an easy read, a stroll down memory lane and best of all, it’d pass the time. By the time we landed in JFK, I’d already finished the book.

I was shocked by the parallels between Seamus and Holden. Both are bad students. Both are mouthy. Both couldn’t toe the line if they tried. Both are bent on running away. Holden’s odyssey ends in a loony bin, Seamus’ on the streets. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which character they like better – if the reader feels he or she has to choose. (And if you choose Holden, please don’t tell me! I’m nowhere near as thick-skinned as Seamus.) But I swear, I didn’t create Seamus with Holden in mind.

What The Catcher in the Rye did do for me, though, was help me see that a rambling, juvenile monologue could engage a reader for hundreds of pages. Of course, Catcher amounts to much more than a rambling, juvenile monologue, but the monologue is Salinger’s through-line, something that keeps the current go as he illustrates a lost kid and his society. Equally, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles shows how effective whitewater rambling can be when conveying a complex story.  Both books made me confident that 85A’s style could work. (And if it doesn’t, don’t tell me! It’s too late! It’s already on the market!) Writing the subsequent drafts, I would often pore over both Catcher and Chronicles and find the faith to keep going.

Holden is hilarious and heartbreaking. And he helped open literature to generations of disaffected kids. I’m so grateful that Catcher paved the way for the YA genre and crossover books like Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Stephen King’s The Body and, of course, 85A.

Want to read a book influenced by Catcher in the Rye? Read 85A today!