Review of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Ryeby Richard Davies
**Spoiler warning - parts of the plot are revealed in this review**
60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by John David California is the book J.D Salinger banned. An unauthorized sequel to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Coming Through the Rye has been published in the UK but a judge has banned the book in the US.
John David California is actually a Swedish writer and publisher named Fredrik Colting. Coming Through the Rye is his debut novel. Bizarrely, it has been reported that the Swede has read Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye only twice, which is strange as his book comes across as fan fiction for the most part.
Colting’s attempt to follow in Salinger’s footsteps is baffling. The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 and has sold millions of copies. The book and its anti-hero, Holden Caulfield, helped to define teenage rebellion, and remained controversial for many years because of its strong language and sexual subject matter. By attempting to write Catcher in the Rye II, Colting put himself in a no-win situation – obviously the reclusive Salinger would challenge the book and surely countless fans of the original are going to be dismayed that some bloke from Göteborg would dare to revive the iconic Caulfield.
In order to put Colting’s sequel into context, I re-read The Catcher in the Rye. I had not picked up the book since the 1980s and purchased one those classic Signet editions with the memorable cover of Caulfield walking away in his red deerstalker. It was the 25th printing from April 1963 and it had been around the block. On the inside back cover, there was a conversation in pencil from decades ago – perhaps written by two students sitting in English class.
John is taking fat old Linda Cobb! Damnation!
Who is that obscure person? Is she cute?
Neither Gord nor Don has their drive – maybe one of the mommys or daddy’s (sic) will drive – Whoops! Pardon – Gord has his – and an older brother.
Tell me about him (arrow toward words ‘older brother’). Is he like Gordon?
Yes! Too bad.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Would it be polite to tackle Don
knownow & ask him if he can drive
I’ll have my liscence (sic) by then. And if you get stuck on some creep (not the Larry type) who hasn’t got a liscence either we’ll all go on my brother’s motorcycle.
While The Catcher in the Rye has been a fixture on high school reading lists for several generations, students will not be debating how to get to a dance, or rather a club, on the inside back cover of Colting’s sequel - even if it is published. Coming Through the Rye lacks almost everything possessed by the original with the exception of controversy.
Coming Through the Rye’s plot re-introduces Holden Caulfield, or rather Mr C as he is called in the book, 60 years after he walked out of Pencey and took the train to New York. He’s an old man in his late 70s, who has been forced into a nursing home for his own good by his son. Colting thinks the teenage rebel would still be burning brightly in the senior citizen version of Caulfield and Mr C walks out of the nursing home, and jumps on a bus going to New York.
The story is told in the first person and, initially, Colting sprinkles some typical Holden-style vocabulary such as ‘and all’ and ‘phony’ as reminders of his famous past. The writing has none of the original’s abrasive style.
At first, Mr C can barely walk, yet he soon seems to be covering considerable distances around New York. Colting’s version of Caulfield is dazed and confused, and has a weak bladder. His main concern is his proximity to a bathroom and the elderly version of the world’s most famous teenage anti-hero pisses in doorways, on the street, in the park and also on himself. Why re-invent the teenage rebel as an old man? Why not give him a mortgage, a couple of kids and a pile of credit card bills to pay, and then let’s see how long his teenage angst lasts?
The initial reaction to Coming Through the Rye is that this book is simply harmless nonsense and Salinger should call off the dogs because his legacy is not under threat. However, three-quarters of the way through the novel, Salinger’s anger becomes understandable. Colting decides to send Mr C to Cornish, New Hampshire, to meet J.D. Salinger himself. Reworking Salinger’s most famous creation is one thing, but writing the author himself into the story is ridiculous and asking for trouble. Did Colting really expect a man who won’t even answer the doorbell, let alone allow Hollywood or television to touch his work, to happily play along?
Unauthorized sequels are nothing new. Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone – a follow-up to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind – was challenged by Mitchell’s estate but was eventually published. Most people have never heard of it, while Gone With the Wind has sold millions of copies. Coming Through the Rye is destined to fade away.
Salinger offered the first alienated teenager but Colting offers just another grumpy old man and none of the edginess that still oozes from The Catcher in the Rye – a book published 58 years ago in a vastly different world.