What a Phony

I read the banned Catcher in the Rye “sequel” so you don’t have to.

After James Joyce’s Ulysses was banned in the United States, publisher Sylvia Beach shipped 40 copies from Paris to a contact in Canada, who then smuggled a single edition into Detroit via ferry. The remaining volumes were later mailed to select literary luminaries, including Alfred A. Knopf and Sherwood Anderson. These days, obtaining illicit material is much easier. After a New York District Court granted an injunction against the publication of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye —an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye currently on sale in Europe—I purchased a copy through Amazon UK. I read it; and I can report that no one else should take the trouble.

The term “unauthorized sequel” is J.D. Salinger’s (or his lawyers’), but it’s not a particularly accurate description of 60 Years Later. Author Frederik Colting, who writes under the pen name John David California, claims instead that it’s a “literary commentary on Catcher and the relationship between Holden and Salinger”—which is closer to the truth.

At the start of the book, Salinger—who communicates to the reader in italics—decides he wants to bring back his most famous protagonist, and a Mr. C, as in Caulfield, obliges by waking up in a nursing home at the age of 76. Salinger’s plan, we soon learn, is to kill off C, who’s been tormenting him all these years with “questions about this and that,” but the character gets away from him. Literally. He flees the old folks’ home and boards a bus to New York City. Over the next 200 or so pages, he: wanders around Manhattan; is moved (by his creator) to throw himself in a river; gets fished out (to his creator’s dismay); finds a notebook belonging to Salinger; delivers said notebook to the 90-year-old author in Cornish, N.H.; discovers a file cabinet containing his “entire life”; narrowly escapes getting bonked over the head by Salinger with a cast-iron paperweight shaped like a dog; busts his sister, Phoebe, out of a nursing home; and ends up in yet another nursing home, but this time Phoebe’s with him. Finis.

That, anyway, is the basic action, interrupted frequently by Salinger’s italic musings about how killing off a character is harder than he thought it would be. In more capable hands, this conceit could have served as a springboard for a philosophically sophisticated examination of how much control an author has over his own creations. But California’s grip on the material is about as steady as, say, a nonagenarian’s on a heavy paperweight.

Among the more ludicrous aspects of the novel is that California imitates Salinger’s style by having the 76-year-old C think and talk exactly as Holden did at age 16. Just as the original Holden wonders where the Central Park ducks go during the winter, C wants to know if “sparrows fly south.” Both characters worry about phoniness (“Sometimes it seems that walking has been the only thing I’ve really been good at,” C says. “I know it sounds phony as hell, but sometimes I really wish it would have been something else.”); both like to end phrases with “and all,” as in, “Not with the doctor’s family watching and all”; and both pepper their speech with “helluva” and “goddamn.”

C’s adventures in Manhattan play out like a television reunion episode—the gang’s together again, reliving old times! He has a cup of coffee with Stradlater, his old boarding school roommate. He spends a considerable amount of time thinking about his brother Allie’s death. He returns to many of his old haunts: the carousel at Central Park, for instance, and the Museum of Natural History. He also buys himself a red hunting hat.

California’s allusions contain little charm, but his original material is far worse. To reinforce the idea that Salinger’s teenager is now an old man, California gifts him a urological problem: References to his full bladder are many and close between, and C’s continence fails him on more than one occasion. Not wishing to completely unman C, California drops in a revolting sexual tussle with a voracious young woman: “I roll harder and faster and I feel my erection roll with me, but still the animal is there, pushing into my mouth,” C tells us. (Impressive stamina for a trouser-soaking geriatric.) But the single most repellent line is a reference to the female reproductive system, not the male one. Salinger says of C: “Every day since I created him, every day since I pushed him through the uterus of my mind, I have thought of him.”

In her July 1 ruling that 60 Years Later does not constitute fair use, Judge Deborah Batts noted that the novel “contains no reasonably discernable rejoinder or specific criticism of any character or theme of Catcher.” This is perfectly true, but it’s also pointless and petty for JDS to go after JDC. 60 Years Later is readily available to anyone who knows how to replace the .com after Amazon with And if Salinger should ever decide to push a sequel through the uterus of his mind, I doubt the existence of this goddamn phony will in any way detract from the public’s appreciation of the real thing.