"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's," declares Zooey Glass to his sister Franny, and Salinger italicizes the words "on his own terms" in case there was any doubt. Not that you doubt Salinger's artistic integrity. His sanity, however, is another story.
Madness is at the center of J.D. Salinger's "Franny And Zooey," published together in 1961 after first seeing print as separate stories in "The New Yorker" ("Franny" in 1955, "Zooey" two years later.) While the two stories work in tandem as they deal with the same concerns and main characters and are set a day or two apart, they feel quite distant from one another. Salinger abandons the discipline and wonderful ambiguity of "Franny" for a rambling philosophical tract that seems to be written more for Salinger and his fictional brainchildren than any outside reader.
In "Franny," the title character is a college student who has had it with pedantic professors and her stuck-up boyfriend. She longs for spiritual contentment, one detached from materialistic ego. Failing, she sinks into a state of near catatonia as she recites a prayer over and over trying to make a decisive break.
It is one of the finest stories Salinger wrote, which means a lot considering he wrote "For Esme With Love And Squalor" and "The Laughing Man." In the opening paragraph alone, we get a wonderful sense of place watching Yale boys await their dates' arrival via train, Salinger displaying both that pungent wit and considerable humanistic charm which made "Catcher In The Rye" so special.
As they huddle in groups in their overcoats against the autumn chill, "each young man, in his strident, conversational turn, was clearing up, once and for all, some highly controversial issue, one that the outside, non-matriculating world had been bungling, provocatively or not, for centuries."
By focusing on one of these men, Lane Coutell, and letting us meet his date Franny Glass through his eyes, Salinger immediately sets the right tone, describing her spiritual crisis in a series of awkward pauses over martinis and uneaten food. Lane is a decent young man, but absolutely not what she needs at that moment, made clearer as she begins to fall apart before him. She worries about her soul; he worries about her lousing up his homecoming weekend.
It's a fun, subtly presented dichotomy. As she talks about her admiration for a pilgrim she has read of who has dedicated his life to prayer, one is reminded of how well Salinger used spirituality to inform his sublime short story "Teddy."
"Franny" ends poignantly, if abruptly, but instead of leaving well enough alone, he wrote the sequel story "Zooey," more than three times the length of "Franny" and more an endurance run than sprint. Now back home, Franny lies on a sofa in her parents' apartment as her brother Zooey tries to rouse her from her mental state by telling her what life is really all about.
Calling "Zooey" a mess is to be kind. It is pompous, fuzzy-minded, and as divorced from reality as "Franny" was grounded in it. Salinger itemizes the contents of every overstuffed room in the Glass house, even the medicine cabinet. Long, rambling conversations are written out in stenographic detail, while paragraphs detail Zooey's shaving methods and his attitudes toward various brilliant siblings, alive and dead.
I don't want to say "Zooey" is terrible, because it isn't. Salinger offers some interesting concepts. Though the Glass family is pretty insufferable in their intellectual and spiritual superiority (and becomes more so, in later Salinger works), their complicated interrelationships are detailed in amusing fashion. Every now and again Salinger hits a great note.
You may like "Zooey" for what it is; if so you can be happy knowing you have that much in common with the author. The rest of us will have to make do with "Franny," a fair bit of solace indeed.
I swore to myself that I would write a review of this book before the end of 2010, so here goes. I should issue a warning - I'm totally stoked up on hot Jameson toddies due to this nasty cold that took over my body on Monday (recipe: ample whiskey, cloves, lemons and sugar, all of which you mash together - this is important - BEFORE you add the hot water; then guzzle as the situation demands). But then, it was unlikely that I would ever be able to review this - one of my top … more
Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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Volume containing two interrelated stories by J.D. Salinger, published in book form in 1961. The stories, originally published in The New Yorker magazine, concern Franny and Zooey Glass, two members of the family that was the subject of most of Salinger's short fiction. Franny is an intellectually precocious late adolescent who tries to attain spiritual purification by obsessively reiterating the "Jesus prayer" as an antidote to the perceived superficiality and corruptness of life. She subsequently suffers a nervous breakdown. In the second story, her next older brother, Zooey, attempts to heal Franny by pointing out that her constant repetition of the "Jesus prayer" is as self-involved and egotistical as the egotism against which she rails. --The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature