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 3 books of all time - stone cold sober.
I think the main reason I love this book so much is that, no matter how many times I read it, every time I do it feels as if Salinger is speaking directly to me. When I first came across it (from reading "Catcher in the Rye", of course) it felt as if I had been stumbling through this enormous library all my life when suddenly I came across this secret text that had been written just for me, and only for me. Now, I'm not an idiot, so of course one part of me knows that this isn't so - there are no "magic texts", nobody is out there writing just for me. But though, on the surface I am this consummate rationalist (I have a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics, for Chrissakes), thank God I am at some level smart enough to appreciate the magic in finding a text that seems to speak to me so forcefully.
"I'm not an idiot". No. In fact I'm super-smart (not arrogance, just a statement of fact). And often, before reading this book, this felt like more of a curse than a blessing. But it was Salinger's story of the hyper-smart Glass children that first offered me a viable way to come to terms with my own gifts. At one level, there's the advice that her siblings attempt to pass on to Franny, who has reached a kind of spiritual crisis triggered by a realisation of her own giftedness. There's the love, concern and humanity with which they try to help her through that crisis, to help her to make the realisation that her talent doesn't have to be something that separates her from the great majority of people. That there is a sacred responsibility to develop and follow one's talents as far as possible.
And any hint of elitism, or intellectual snobbery, or some of the other charges that are sometimes thrown against Salinger are rendered so obviously meaningless and beyond the point in the last few pages of this extraordinary love story:
Zooey: "I was furious. The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors were morons, and I just damned well wasn't going to shine my shoes for them, I told Seymour. I said they couldn't see them anyway where we sat. He said to shine them anyway. He said to shine them for the Fat Lady. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look on his face, and so I did it. He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again ..."
Franny was standing. "He told me too", she said into the phone. "He told me to be funny for the Fat Lady, once"
Zooey: "I don't care where an actor acts. ... But I'll tell you a terrible secret... There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. ..... There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. ... I can't talk any more, buddy."
"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" … more
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