Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Monday, April 18, 2011

Title: Franny and Zooey
Author: J.D. Salinger
Genre: Literary fiction, novella
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company, 1955
Source: Personal copy

Franny and Zooey was brought to my attention by the book Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, when Lily hides a red Moleskine notebook next to a copy in The Strand. Throughout the book, Dash and Lily make reference to it. I'd heard of Catcher In the Rye, although I haven't gotten to it yet, but never this one, and because I loved Dash and Lily's Book of Dares so wholeheartedly, I knew this was a book I needed to look into.

The little volume, prefaced by a little dedication to Salinger's editor that urges him to accept "this pretty skimpy-looking book," consists of a short story called "Franny" and a little novella called "Zooey." They are interconnected and give a small glimpse into the lives of the Glass family, a family of seven genius children that Salinger also writes about in other books and collections (which I have not read).

"Franny" describes a scene where Franny is picked up by her boyfriend, Lane, to go to the homecoming events at his university. Franny is immediately in a strange mood and begins to expostulate on The Jesus Prayer, a meditation that Franny discovers in an old volume about a pilgrim who wants to pray unceasingly. Franny is entranced by this idea and tries to discuss it with Lane, who doesn't understand.

The Zooey novella picks up at home, where Franny has retreated. Her mother, Bessie, is disturbed and concerned about Franny's behavior, and keeps trying to get Zooey to talk to Franny about it. He finally does, which results in Franny crying. The Zooey novella is essentially a series of conversations that Zooey has, culminating in one with Franny to try and resolve her breakdown.

I have conflicting emotions about the book. If I had read this when I was fifteen, it would have been a complete revelation to me. I was addicted to analysis and would stay on the phone til four in the morning discussing theories about the universe and why people were the way they were and what love was. The conversations in this book are like the conversations I had back then. Even now, I highlighted multiple passages, especially in the "Franny" section (which I enjoyed much more than the "Zooey" section). However, at times I just wanted to tell the characters to settle down, to stop thinking so hard and go with the flow a little bit. I think this would probably earn me their disapproval, and when I was younger it would have definitely earned mine. Does that make me a sellout of my once-cherished ideals? I don't know.

As I stated above, I liked the "Franny" section more than the "Zooey" section, and I think part of that was just that I related to most of what Franny was saying - most of her ideals resonated with me, and I liked how impulsive and passionate she was. For example, when describing the book that she found The Jesus Prayer in, she says, "He meets this one married couple on one of his journeys, that I love more than anybody I ever read about in my entire life." I can really relate to the way she connected with this couple, that they were real to her, just like so many characters are real to me. As I flip back through the "Zooey" section, trying to put my finger on why I didn't like it as much, I think the reason is that I never completely understood Zooey. With Franny, we are front-row spectators of her existential dilemma. It is hinted that Zooey has had one of these as well - the novella begins with a long letter from his older brother, who seems to be the family Wise Person - but all we really get is him giving advice to Franny. Some of it is very apt, but I didn't enjoy hearing it as much because I didn't feel like I knew him or could relate to him.

I also had a two-edged experience with the writing, although the positive edge was much sharper than the negative edge. Negatively: there were so many italics that they started getting stuck in my head. I think this may also have been why the Zooey section started to drive me insane. (Ha). While I could picture exactly how all the speakers were inflecting their words, the pointed way they were speaking irked me. Positively: Salinger has a way of describing things so frankly and yet originally. Par exemple: "But by some old, standing arrangement wit her psyche, she elected to feel guilty for having seen it, caught it, and sentenced herself to listen to Lane's ensuing conversation with a special semblance of absorption." I've never heard anyone else describe those little rituals we go through so clearly. Maybe Franny and I are the only ones, but I have a feeling we're not.

Despite my mixed feelings about some aspects of the book, my overall impression is a good one. I haven't read any other Salinger, but now I am intrigued. I definitely want to learn more about the Glass family, and Catcher in the Rye is one of those must-read-in-your-lifetime type of books. It wasn't my favorite read by any means, but definitely a worthy read that stretched my brain and asked a few uncomfortable philosophical questions. I'll leave you with a favorite quote:
It's everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so - I don't know - not wrong, over even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and - sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much as everybody else, only in a different way.
3.5 stars

Warnings for the sensitive reader: many swears, but no F-bombs.

1 comment:

  1. You know, I read Catcher in the Rye and hated it, so I've avoided all of Salinger's work since then. Maybe I should put my biased-ness aside and give this one a try.


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