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Customer Review

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, wordy & wonderful, 19 May 2006
This review is from: Franny and Zooey (Paperback)
Critically denounced on publication by several eminent commentators of the time (Updike, Didion, etc), Franny and Zooey has, over the past few years, enjoyed something of an academic rehabilitation. (In particular, see Janet Malcolm's excellent article for the New York Review of Books, Volume 48, Number 10 which can be found at www.nybooks.com/articles/14272). The book consists of a short story and novella entitled Franny and Zooey respectively. (They were originally published separately in the New Yorker, two years apart).

`Franny' focuses on a date with her boyfriend Lane, just prior to an American football game he is anxious not to miss. In contrast to the effusive affection expressed in the letter she sent him before this occasion, she finds him increasingly irritating. This is exacerbated by his boasting about his recent Flaubert essay. For his part, Lane cannot understand why she is not eating, nor can he account for her growing nervousness and disengagement. Twice she has to excuse herself, seemingly unwell. It transpires that she has been reading a devotional book entitled `Way of the Pilgrim'. This has inspired her to endlessly repeat the `Jesus Prayer' in the hope of emulating its hero by praying so incessantly that it is as subconscious an act as her heart beating. Indeed, after the second time, she is found collapsed still murmuring the prayer.

The action in `Zooey' takes place just a few days later. Franny has returned home to recuperate. Zooey, Franny's elder brother, has been enjoying a leisurely soak while rereading a four-year-old letter from his brother, Buddy (who is also the absent narrator). Quite preachy, it exhorts him to better appreciate their mother, Bessie, and explains part of the reason for the family difficulty in coping with other people. (All seven of the children had been precocious prodigies and had featured regularly on the radio quiz show `The Wise Child'). Just after he completes his reading, his mother bursts in. Concerned about Franny, she nags him to talk to her. Eventually, having shaved and dressed, he agrees. Finding that his hectoring tone and insensitivity (unsurprisingly) are upsetting her, he apologises and leaves the room. Seeking inspiration, perhaps, he enters his brother Seymour's room (who had committed suicide some years before). Using the private phone, he calls Franny, pretending to be Buddy, and tries again. This second attempt appears to be effective.

Throughout both pieces, Salinger never falters in his attention to detail. It feels filmic (in point of fact, the narrator describes it as a `home movie'). The realistic dialogue, though dated, is snappy and sprinkled with humour. Characterization, too, is very strong: these people are almost tangible.

Owing to its short length, it would be easy to read this in one evening. One word of caution, however: this is a book to be savoured, both for its language and for its ideas. The issues it highlights are thought provoking and intriguing and it is worth taking one's time over. Further, it naturally lends itself to repeated re-reading - a rare quality indeed. This purchase will repay your investment one thousand-fold: it is emphatically not a read and ditch novel (although you may well wish to acquire copies for your friends). Not often do you get an opportunity to pick up such a well-crafted work of art for so little money. Seize this one.
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