Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Review: 'Franny and Zooey' by J.D.Salinger

Franny and Zooey

Finally, I finished this book. It's usually not a good thing when you're relieved once you finish a book but sometimes I feel that it's different with Salinger books. They are very much a journey, for the reader and the characters, in which you and they work through problems. Of course you're relieved when you find the answers at the end. And thankfully, Salinger does give answers. Next to this I was terribly busy with work, which I finished yesterday. So now I'm all back to having time to read and blog. Here's a description of the book by Salinger himself.
FRANNY came out in The New Yorker in 1955, and was swiftly followed, in 1957 by ZOOEY. Both stories are early, critical entries in a narrative series I'm doing about a family of settlers in twentieth-century New York, the Glasses. It is a long-term project, patently an ambiguous one, and there is a real-enough danger, I suppose that sooner or later I'll bog down, perhaps disappear entirely, in my own methods, locutions, and mannerisms. On the whole, though, I'm very hopeful. I love working on these Glass stories, I've been waiting for them most of my life, and I think I have fairly decent, monomaniacal plans to finish them with due care and all-available skill.
These are two short stories but so closely related, 'Zooey' (a novella) starts where 'Franny' (a short story) ends, that it is probably better for both stories to be read together. Zooey Glass and Franny Glass are brother and sister and the two youngest of seven children. All of them have been on a quiz radio show 'A Wise Child' which seems to have led to all of them having difficulty in dealing with other people. 'Franny' centers on her going to meet her boyfriend, Lane, for the weekend which turns into a disaster on the first day because she seems to be out of sorts. 'Zooey' then offers an explanation of this from the brother's perspective as she comes home to wallow in her problems. We get an insight into their history and an explanation and solution for Franny's problem

Perhaps 'Franny' was my favourite, although 'Zooey' is the bigger of both and I found myself agreeing with it. In this story Salinger shows the same kind of humour in description as in 'Catcher in the Rye'. His observations of, once again, university students and their attitudes (I can't wait to join their ranks) are funny and also quite true. He exposes the phony self congratulation and self importance that is even more present now then when he wrote this and finds the same issues in the entertainment industry. 
"Everything everybody does is so-I don't know-not wrong, or 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 confroning just as much as everybodt else, only in a different way."
Here is where I have difficulty with Salinger's writing. He is terribly judgmental, or at least, his characters are. For someone like me, who just ignored people when they're being difficult, it can be difficult to read about characters who are so busy with looking at the faults in others. Then again, Zooey and Franny are very aware of this character flaw and blame it on their education and participation in 'A Wise Child'. But it also present in his writing style, which sometimes says a lot in one sentence and then spends a page on nothing. It made this novella quite a difficult read, simply because I had to put a lot of thinking into it. But on the other side, he did show his humor once in a while and proved that sarcasm in leading men is nothing new:
"You listening to this? You fat old Druid?" Zooey inquired. "Or are you just staring at my gorgeous face?"
I don't think this book will appeal to anyone who doesn't like thinking about religion and life. The excerpts below show some of the nice religion bits:
'Jesus realized there is no seperation from God.''But most of all, above everything else, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew - knew- that we're carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside, where we're all too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look?'
I did quite like it because I agree with this view of Jesus and religion, but before getting to this I had to put a lot of work into reading long conversations between Zooey & his mother and Zooey & his brother Buddy about life, the entertainment business and family. This book is a lot of work, which also has to do with the structure of the writing. At times I felt I was reading a novelized play. 'Franny' has one long scene in a cafe, 'Zooey' has one scene in the bathroom, one in the living room and one in the bedroom. All of these are quite static, relying heavily on the dialogue and seems perfect to be staged. There is detailed description of the rooms, the setting so to say, and there are descriptions of the small actions of the characters, picking up a cigarette, looking out the window, sitting, standing up, etc. 'Franny' seems to have more action because the cafe offers more space to other characters and her interaction with Lane is quite fun. 'Zooey' really only has three characters: Zooey, Franny and their mother, Bessie. And their conversations just become a bit much after a while. But the ending is very nice, which made up for a lot.

I give this novella...


Together, the two stories only measure up to 88 pages, so I thought it would be unfair to give it any higher than three Universes. I also found it quite a challenging read, causing me to spend longer on it than I had planned. Franny and Zooey are really interesting characters, as is their interaction with each other and their mother. I do want to know more about them, but I think I need another Salinger-break before I read his other short stories on the Glass-family. I read this book for my '100 Classics'-list for the Classics Club.


  1. I was always curious about this one, ever since I saw it on my parent's shelf as a child. It sounds really good! -Sarah

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