Other times, though, the Catcher comparison seems less appropriate. "For everyone who wished that Holden Caulfield was a girl, your time has come with Prep," U.S. News & World Report gushed in 2005--but Curtis Sittenfeld, the book's author, disagreed. "Both The Catcher in the Rye and Prep featured disaffected teenage protagonists, but that's about it," Sittenfeld opined for NPR. "Even the boarding school setting isn't much of a commonality because very little of The Catcher in the Rye actually takes place [there]." Writing about the 50th anniversary of Catcher in The New Yorker, Louis Menand called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) the MTV edition of Catcher--but Dave Eggers's memoir describes how he becomes the caretaker for his much younger brother after their parents die, whereas those roles come closer to being reversed in Catcher, with Holden's much-younger sister, Phoebe, urging him to advance towards adulthood. USA Today made a comment similar to Menand's when remarking that Less Than Zero (1987) was a "Catcher in the Rye for the MTV generation"--though MTV, period, seems to have been more of an influence on Bret Easton Ellis.
A Map of Tulsa author Lytal says the Publishers Weekly review comparing his novel to Catcher was a happy surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. "I was delighted," he told me in an interview, to be put in the same league with "such a big iconic book. That doesn't mean I would make the Catcher in the Rye comparison myself." Understandably so. Lytal's narrator, Jim, seems an orange to Holden's apple; Lytal, more a James Salter than a Salinger. Jim's metaphors are often startling in their visual beauty, his observations so precise that he can evoke a complex mise en scene in a sentence. (Consider: "[T]he pervasive self-consciousness of the smart-kid atmosphere encouraged a freak-out manic dancing, pursued between males, shouting the lyrics in each other's faces.") And measured, insightful Jim is much closer to a third-person narrator than old Holden, who's about as first-person as it gets--talking in that helluva slangy way, if you know what I mean, that's so chatty it would be almost corny if the book weren't so poignantly funny.
As it turns out, however, any evocation of Salinger's classic by a reviewer may not be a suggestion that a new novel will be Catcher-like in voice or plot, but more a prediction that it will "touch this generation the way that The Catcher in the Rye touched its generation." That's how Louisa Ermelino, Publishers Weekly's Reviews Director, explained her publication's take on A Map of Tulsa to me.
Unseating Catcher will be tough, however, given the way that Salinger's book--which took the crown for most memorable colloquial American narrator away from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--has powerfully affected, and still affects, so many generations of readers. "Contemporary readers from all kinds of backgrounds recognize Holden's world-view as comparable to their own--my own students do, every year," Sarah Graham, a lecturer in American literature at the University of Leicester and author of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, told me. And Jay McInerney, the author of Bright Lights, Big City--itself "The Catcher in the Rye for the M.B.A. set," according to Playboy--described the impact Salinger's book has had on writers: "In its modern form the American bildungsroman (the novel of formation) descends from The Catcher in the Rye," he wrote when reviewing Kunkel's debut for The New York Times.