Monday, February 23, 2009

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

Also reviewed by Brooke and Carlton.

Salinger continues to amaze me with just how much he can do with so little. The 200-odd pages of Franny and Zooey contain less plot than I think any book I've ever read: Franny meets her boyfriend and they eat at a restaurant, where she collapses. The next day, she is recuperating at home where her mother convinces her brother, Zooey, to have a conversation with her. That's it. And yet Salinger is able to give forty- and fifty-page conversations the unmistakeable patina of reality that writers work for decades to capture.

I think what impresses me most is that the characters are not ordinary--Franny and Zooey are members of the Glass Family (elsewhere investigated by Salinger in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and the underrated "Down at the Dinghy"), and as children were noted intellectuals who appeared on a radio program called "It's a Wise Child." As I've noted before, a lot of Salinger's work has a common theme running through it: the tendency of precocious children to grow into neurotic and unstable adults. Franny's collapse is brought on by an obsession with the "Jesus Prayer," a ritualistic prayer meant to be repeated over and over until the heart and mind are in communion with the lips. Zooey is brilliant and physically attractive, as well as a successful actor, but is emotionally distant and has difficulty communicating genuinely with his family.

Salinger's opus is really something to be hold, and though his literary output is small I think that each of his three books that I've read really deepens my understanding of the others--even Catcher in the Rye, itself not about any member of the Glass family, is supposedly written by one of the Glass brothers, Buddy (as well as several of Salinger's non-Glass stories). I think that much of that is probably revisionism, but it neatly supplies a physical thread that excuses the thematic simialrity of all of Salinger's work: when we view Holden Caulfield, who is incapable of dealing fully with the death of his older brother Allie, as the creation of Buddy Glass, brother of a suicide, we begin to understand the depth of Buddy's grief, which is only glanced at otherwise. I can't say that Franny and Zooey is my favorite of Salinger's stuff--in fact I think it suffers severely upon comparison to Catcher and Nine Stories--but I love it for the way it enhances my understanding of those books, and in turn is enhanced by them.

Note: My copy of this book was once owned by Michael Peterson, a wealthy North Carolina man infamously convicted of killing his wife five or six years ago. I left that in a bar and had to borrow another copy from Nathan. Maybe the book is cursed?


Meagan said...

michael peterson went to duke.

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

9 Stories turned me on to the glass family. I will have to admit after that thought I wasn't a hugee fan of F&Z. Maybe I will have to give it another go around

Amanda said...

I read Catcher in the Rye back in 2001, in a string of other books on a weekly schedule. I honestly don't remember it at all, and need to revisit. I'd like to read it again before I read Franny and Zooey, which is also on my shelf.

Nathan said...

You're damn right it's cursed because mine got stolen from me.

Christopher said...