Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Franny and Zooey
A novel (?) by J.D. Salinger

Review by:
Fred Shira

I read all of Salinger’s work, he was not that prolific, back in the 1960’s for a couple of reasons: one, it was the hip thing to do, and two, it was the hip thing to talk about when trying to pick up girls. “Have you read such and such by Salinger; isn’t it just great. How he speaks to our inner being”. Inner beings were a big thing in those days. This was in Washington D.C. where the wide eyed girls from across the country came to find husbands.
I have wondered why Salinger became such a hermit, living a life way out of the public eye. Maybe it was because of his books. The Catcher in the Rye is a good book and should be required reading for all fifteen year olds. Maybe the roar of the literary dollar harkened to him to keep writing and we, little intellects as we are, will keep buying. When ole’ J.D. passed away I thought it might be a good idea to reread some of his work, so I rummaged through the boxes in the attic and found a copy of Franny and Zooey thinking this would be a good place to start, now I think it is also a good place to stop.
Franny and Zooey is a snapshot of two characters looking for a story. It is divided into two sections appropriately named, first Franny and then Zooey. It’s not a long book, a mere 202 pages, and it could probably be pared in half by taking out all the superfluous descriptions and verbiage padding.
The first section finds us at a New England college on the day of the big Yale game. Franny, a spoiled little rich girl, comes to town to meet her boy friend whose main concern is a paper he wrote about Flaubert for an English class and is disappointed that no one wants to read it. The first scene is set with Lane, that’s the boyfriend, sitting on a train platform waiting for Franny to arrive. He is wearing a Burberry raincoat. I have to wonder if Salinger got a coat for the product placement.
After Franny arrives they go to a restaurant where the conversation turns to snails, how they are so above everyone else and chicken sandwiches. Franny relates to Lane that she has read a book about a monk who went around saying the “Jesus Prayer” like a Buddhist mantra. She plans to follow suit to find true enlightenment. Franny then refuses to eat the chicken sandwich which Lane cajoled her into ordering, and then she faints. End of story number one. The one point of tension is when Lane hints that they may have sex if he can find a back way into the Franny’s room.
The second story is Zooey. After Franny comes to she goes home to the home of her parents in upper east-side Manhattan. He we meet the Glass family which dominates Salinger’s later writings, as a matter of fact all his writings, except for Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. We learn that there were seven Glass kids. They were all contestants on a radio quiz show, “It’s a Wise Child. All gifted. Zooey is a TV actor who criticizes everything and everybody he comes in contact with.
The first half of the story is a dialogue between Zooey and his mother, who he calls Bessie, in the bath room. Poor Zooey has to take his bath hiding himself behind a curtain while his mother sits and smokes. Salinger sets the scene for us like he is being paid by the word. He even goes so far to describe every item in the medicine cabinet. Bess wants Zooey to bring Franny out of her doldrums and make her eat some chicken soup, Jewish penicillin, even though the Glasses are Catholic.
The second half of the story is a very long diatribe where Zooey tries to explain the essence of Eastern mysticism with Franny laying on the couch lamenting the fact that in her four years of college she has only heard the term, “wise man” once, and that was pertaining to some guy who made a lot of money, such a Philistine.
To make an overly long story short; its girl has a spiritual crisis, brother helps her understand, girl gets better. The only real action in the story is that everyone is always lighting cigarettes, except for Zooey who smokes cigars, and moving ashtrays around. Smoking was very chic in the fifties when this story was set.
Perhaps there is more to this story when you look deeper. Does the name Glass signify some sort of transparency? Does Zooey go through some sort of metamorphous when he returns to his room and changes his sweaty shirt? Do the two older brothers, Buddy and Seymour stand for some abstract spiritual power figures? This could all be so, but the book is too droll to think that much about. When it’s finished you just want to put it back in the box in the attic,
Maybe Salinger should have followed the lead of Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell and wrote one good book then quit.

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