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Booklog: Franny and Zooey

July 30, 2007

Franny and Zooey
J.D. Salinger
Read: 7.3.07
Rating: Very Good

I suspect that most readers have a work of fiction they turn to for comfort and rely on for encouragement; Franny and Zooey has, for many years, been mine. I suspect that the time is coming when it will be replaced by some as-yet-unknown book, but Franny and Zooey has served me well for six or seven years, and I will be sad to see it supplanted.

I typically read Franny and Zooey right after reading The Catcher in the Rye, during the summertime, when I am in a state of mental disarray. I admit that it is often reading The Catcher in the Rye that puts me in a state of mental disarray — or at least pushes me further into one — so it’s only fitting that Franny and Zooey should be part of the solution. If The Catcher in the Rye is an dear choleric friend whose monologue reveals the sadness of life, Franny and Zooey is the older, more detached, friend who has “been through it” and can offer a charming, almost inspirational antidote.

That being said, Franny and Zooey does not hold as much meaning for me as it once did. The revelations at the end, that the fat lady is Christ himself, for example, now seems a little silly, and a lot unhelpful. Now the earnestness of Salinger’s prose, which is hopelessly clever and heartwarming, is the main attraction. I do not grow tired of the narrative voice adopted by “Buddy Glass,” nor do I lose any affection for the two main characters. It’s an affection that Salinger himself clearly shares: I can’t think of a writer who is more obviously fond of his characters, which makes his narrative voice of the loving older brother a particularly good choice.

Franny and Zooey is a deeply spiritual book, in a way that most works of modern fiction don’t dare to be. The personal religious hodge-podge adopted by the Glass family is deeply personal and idiosyncratic, specifically in that it rolls religion and the making of art into one giant ball, rolling it towards the phony disappointments of life, trying to knock them all down at once. The target is familiar from The Catcher in the Rye, with the adversarial word here being “ego” instead of “phony.” Like its predecessor, Franny and Zooey rails against the superficial, the surface, and anything that you could call “the earthly.” My paraphrase of the problem is: “What can one do without feeling like a terrible phony? without hating it?” The “answer,” or at the very least the coping mechanism, presented here, is this:

The artists only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.

Singleness of vision. A sense of personal goodness, and the ability to pursue it despite the phonies that surround you, and the phoniness that is within in. Is this a satisfactory nugget of wisdom? I used to think so, and I still do think it’s helpful. But I think it’s appropriate that as I age, I find more enjoyment in Salinger’s art itself than in his pronouncements about what it should be.

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5 comments

  1. You know, I’d actually sort of given up on Salinger until I discovered your blog and your enthusiasm for his work. I was a Salinger nut for a few years as a teenager (even buying “Nine Stories” for friends). I may yet return to him so thanks for that.

    Embarrassment: I actually thought “The Jesus Prayer” (mentioned in “Franny”) was a fictional work. I almost fell over when I saw it on a store shelf one day.


  2. Ian, that’s great! My very hope is to remind people that Salinger is actually a good writer, and not just for teenagers. I actually find that I appreciate Holden more the less I resemble him.

    I’ve never seen “The Jesus Prayer” in a store, but I can’t imagine it’s a common text–and I thought it was fictional the first time or two that I read Franny and Zooey.


  3. “I actually find that I appreciate Holden more the less I resemble him.”

    I’ll have to remember that one.


  4. The thing is, not enough people read good books… and, unfortunately, i am not only talking about adults not reading Salinger… The fact is, at least in the society and country that I live in (Romania), teenagers have almost no contact with literature, apart from the mandatory books in the school curriculum. And this is reflected in the way they think, in the way they act, in the way they live their teen years… And I am one to see this more clearly because I have been fortunate enough to be brought up in a family of intellectuals, which have taught me the value of a good book….
    Anyway, I like your blog… check mine out, it’s new and i’m still improving on things, so feedback and ideas would be much appreciated 🙂


  5. F&Z was, for years, my comfort book too. I enjoyed your reflections on it. Have you read Wendy Lesser’s Nothing Remains the Same? That book reflects on readings of works she values at various points in her life.



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