Holden Caulfield was 17 in 1951, which means that, like a lot of his fans, not to mention his creator, he's collecting Social Security. Salinger too is retired; he had the good sense to stop writing when he had nothing left to say. So can we retire his novels too? Would that be OK?
What everyone remembers about Holden is his passion, his positive mania, for sniffing out everything "phony." This keeps him very busy, which is good because he has nothing else to do. Ernie the piano player is a phony because he puts in too many arpeggios. His roommate is a phony because he's vain and stupid and succeeds with girls by sounding sincere. The guy across the hall is a phony because he describes a great basketball player as having "the perfect build for basketball." A girl he dates is a phony because she likes the Lunts and says "grand" too often. (Here Holden may have a point.) A teacher he used to like is a phony because he turns out to be an alcoholic homosexual who married for money.
Now all of these people are ghastly in their own way. But showing off is one thing, and vanity is another, and envy is a third, and affectation is something else. It gets us nowhere to lump these traits together and call them "phony." This can't be chalked up to Holden's adolescent argot either. "Phoniness" recurs constantly in Salinger, no matter which book, no matter who's narrating.
In Salinger's universe only children are never phony. It helps to be dead too. The only truly sympathetic characters in Catcher in the Rye outside of Holden himself are his sister Phoebe and his late brother Allie, a sort of proto-Seymour Glass who died of leukemia and wrote poems on his baseball glove in green ink.
This harping on "phoniness" is indispensable to Salinger's continuing appeal. For all Holden's modesty, his ejaculations of "I'm an idiot, I'm a madman," at bottom he feels superior to the phonies and provokes the same feeling in the reader. And Salinger's settings, fancy boarding schools and prestigious colleges, intensify the feeling by elevating the baseline. It's always pleasant to feel superior, and especially pleasant to feel superior to the Ivy League. And the beauty part, for the reader, is that no actual achievement, no objective superiority, is required: it's all a matter of having your heart in the right place. (Many readers also appreciate that you can kill the complete works in a couple afternoons.)
But whatever else you can say about Catcher in the Rye, at least no member of the Glass family appears. Here's a typical example of middle-period Salinger. Salinger is writing in the person of Buddy Glass, in Seymour: An Introduction:
It seems to me indisputably true that a good many people, the wide world over, of varying ages, cultures, natural endowments, respond with a special impetus, a zing, even, in some cases, to artists and poets who as well as having a reputation for producing great or fine art have something garishly Wrong with them as persons: a spectacular flaw in character or citizenship, a construably romantic affliction or addiction — extreme self-centeredness, marital infidelity, stone-deafness, stone-blindness, a terrible thirst, a mortally bad cough, a soft spot for prostitutes, a partiality for grand-scale adultery or incest, a certified or uncertified weakness for opium or sodomy, and so on, God have mercy on the lonely bastards. If suicide isn't at the top of the list of compelling infirmities for creative men, the suicide poet or artist, one can't help noticing, has always been given a very considerable amount of avid attention, not seldom on sentimental grounds almost exclusively, as if he were (to put it much more horribly than I really want to) the floppy-earned runt of the litter. It's a thought, anyway, finally said, that I've lost sleep over many times, and possibly will again.
This passage is not the best in the Glass works but it is by no means the worst. The comment on his own fervent and rather ghoulish admirers is amusing — Salinger, like the sainted eldest Glass, Seymour, is a sort of suicide poet himself — but let's look at the style for a second.