As I had enjoyed J.D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye quite enough to read it twice (first in Finnish for a project in high school and then in English for my North-American Literature course in University – which later became a project as well, where I compared it to Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road), I got some recommendations to read Perks. At first I was quite sceptic, since honestly the name itself doesn’t attract me greatly, which I’d say is not a very good start for any reading of any book. I gave up eventually, though, and went and bought the book, to see if it would be worth all the fuzz.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, published in 1999, follows (as everyone knows) the story of Charlie the Wallflower as he struggles through his first year of high school. There’s some grand trauma from his past he has suppressed, but which comes up more and more as he goes about his life, making it quite difficult every now and then for him to function properly.
I didn’t know at first that the story was organized in the form of letters (as the novel was sold covered in plastic, I didn’t even get to leaf through it like I usually do in the store), and had I known this I probably wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. I just don’t like the format. It’s boring. There’s one book which also follows this format and I’ve started it twice. Started. Never finished.
I tried my best to see past this, however, once I started the book, since I was genuinely curious whether it’d be a match for the Catcher in any way.
For the first half of the book I was practically lost, trying to figure out what the whole point was, or what I was supposed to expect from the work. I remember writing some thoughts down (which I basically never do), and one of them said something like ‘Perks seems like a cheap copy, a poor man’s version of the Catcher, and painfully aware of it’. Catcher was published in 1951, and clearly has had great influence on Perks (as well as other novels over the years), and I knew this, but I didn’t expect it to be so darn obvious!
So, in both of the novels a young guy has gone through some sort of horrible experience which left them full of traumas that now affect their lives, and both eventually end up in an institution because of it. Both have problems connecting with people (although sure, perhaps in different ways), but they don’t really want to be alone either. Sure, okay, Holden tries to run away from home and has a thing about kids, while Charlie just gets weird about girls and sex, but the way the stories are told, constructed and all that… For me they were just way too similar.
Now there’s no reason to get me wrong here, I quite liked Perks as well. After reaching about the middle of the story it started getting a bit better and all that, so that I started enjoying it more. But still, it seems like one of those books you really have to reread, to get all the things you’re supposed to all the way from the beginning. And I really don’t like rereading books. I’d rather use the time to read a new one. We’ll see.
Just a while ago, I was reading some discussions about books on Goodreads, – something I do sometimes when I’m really bored – and I came across a discussion about the similarities and differences between these two novels in specific.
In this discussion Holden was described as hating everyone, refusing to take advice from people who really care about him, and all in all being a total jerk. Charlie, on the other hand, as oh-so-likeable, really stopping to think about what people said, having a lot of love to give (so much that he ends up idolizing everyone) and all that.
So I thought…
If I liked Catcher more than Perks, and thus evidently identified more with Holden, does that mean that I more like him as well? Like a jerk and all that… And yet. Would it really be so bad not to be like Charlie, who seems to have no actual hold on reality; who just cries for no reason (I’m not saying it’s bad to cry, but if all the times he said he cried he actually cried – then he sure cried a lot) and just goes where and does what people push him to, even if he doesn’t really want to? Holden at least seems to know what’s wrong with him; where all that pain comes from, even if he doesn’t know what to do about it. Although, okay, his story is told on one go, starting from the future where he’s already lived through it all, whereas Charlie writes his letters as he goes.
Now that I’ve totally dissed the poor book, maybe I could slip in some good things as well?
What I really liked was the whole deal with Charlie and Sam, and how very sad it got at times.
“It’s just that I don’t want to be somebody’s crush. If somebody likes me, I want them to like the real me, not what they think I am. And I don’t want them to carry it around inside. I want them to show me, so I can feel it too.”
What usually interests me in books is not the relationships between people (and yet, this is the second one in a short time that seems like an exception), and I usually try not to read books where the main idea is a love story between two characters. Here it wasn’t, really, but it was what got most of my attention. The whole desperate love and all that, just like my own stories and poems and what nots and you know…
And still, what most got to me was this:
“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist.”
And as a final comparison, something that feels sort of pertinent at the moment, with school ending and all, a quote from Catcher I happened to come across, one I always liked:
“What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of good-by. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse.”