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.
on 17 October 2006
Salinger described this as a "pretty flimsy book". The vast majority of writers out there should be so lucky if they can write something as wonderful as this. The attention to detail lays a spell over me every time I read this book, which I have done on a regular basis for the past fifteen or so years. It is incredibly indulgent; the decription of the Glass living room is little more than an artsy list, yet it's so wonderfully delivered that you are right there, staring at the root beer stain from behind the couch. The three characters; the frail, needy Franny (a fifties version of Charlotte in Lost in Translation), acrid, hyper-critical Zooey, and their irrepressible mother deserve each other in more ways than one. Basically, it's crunch time in the young life of Franny Glass, who has found that she cannot cope outside the cosy, intellectual confines of her own family, with more than one ghost, one of whom (Buddy) is still alive, yet seems more intent in lecturing them from beyond the metaphorical grave of his cabin in the back of beyond. In an effort to counter the "phonies" at college, she has taken to a sort of ascetic lifestyle, the focal point of which is a spiritual book, revolving around an endlessly recited prayer. Both brother and mother callously try to bludgeon this out of her, one with kind offers of chicken broth, and the other, with long, detailed critiques of her methods. The poor girl copes in the only way she can; by crying lots and blowing her nose. But you learn a vast amount about this family, and you discover they are not so eccentric as their methods and choices of self-expression might at first suggest. In short, both brother and sister discover something, and it's more than worth discovering along with them. There are many great books, but there are no books like Franny and Zooey, and there won't be again. Catcher was his greatest achievement, without a doubt, but I prefer this book. Although, these days, I seem to side more and more with the mother!
on 3 May 2004
This is the book that proves just how big an author J D Salinger is - and he's massive. Catcher in the Rye, marvellous though it is, almost seems a footnote when weighed against the majesty of the Glass Family stories. I'm mixing metaphors here, but life is short so let's crack on. I've read Franny & Zooey many times (well, I'm certainly into double figures anyway) because I tend to indulge in a Salinger Festival every few years and read all his books in one glorious binge. Franny & Zooey is his best. It's funny, tender, intensely moving and has a warmth that is almost spiritual. I hesitate to use the term 'chicken soup for the soul' but that's the kind of effect it has on me. The last few pages of Zooey are some of the most beautiful I've ever read (I rank them alongside the closing paragraphs of Gatsby and On the Road to name but two - make of that what you will) and it never fails to put a spring in my step. It's books like Franny & Zooey that make life worth living, frankly.
on 17 February 2009
How can one pin down the ouevre of such an elusive and enigmatic writer as JD Salinger?
'Franny and Zooey' is composed of a short story and a novella - both exquisitely wrought and complementing each other - concerning the existential crisis and emotional breakdown of Franny Lane, the youngest of seven precociously talented and intelligent children.
'Franny' - the short story - brilliantly depicts the young woman's date with her pompous boyfriend, and already the themes that one would expect from Salinger's teasing, tantalising portion of published works are visible: existential anxiety over what exactly is 'fitting in,' the words and actions of the 'phonies' and how they impact on sensitive people such as Franny.
'Zooey', whilst still being concerned with Franny, portrays her brother's growing concern over his younger sister, who has taken to moping around the house in an emotional lethargy following her nervous episode documented in `Franny'. Zooey, at the rather comic instigation of his mother while he is having a bath, realises that he must help her get over it all in some way, though until the end of the story, doesn't seem to know how to. It is a beautifully-measured novella which takes its time, and reveals through its inaction rather than action.
Both pieces are witty, wordy and brilliantly realised. What I particularly enjoy is how engaging Salinger's style is, how he can deal with important themes relating to humanity and the individual's place within it, with the greatest and ease and enjoyment on the part of the reader. Indeed, many people have commented on the underlying allusions to Zen Buddhism and other spiritualism: huge themes that are dealt with in a wryly understated and very human fashion.
As such, when Salinger arrives at some sort of denouement or conclusion, it hits and resonates, as it does with 'Franny and Zooey,' with huge emotional impact.
This is a book to be savoured, to be enjoyed for its great dialogue, its perfectly profound realism and its humanity. That is, possibly, where one can recognise Salinger's greatness.
on 2 November 2001
Franny and Zooey are by far my favourite Salinger stories, partly because i find myself hopelessly identifying with Franny, and partly because i may be in love with Zooey (make what you will of that incestuous arrangement!)For me, Salinger's greatest achievement and the very thing that allows this book to triumph over The Catcher In The Rye, is his achingly beautiful and sensitive response to religion and spirituality. The Glass family are an extrememly loveable alternative to Holden Caulfield's cynicism, but lack none of the cutting, brilliant observations that we associate with him. In Franny and Zooey, Salinger chooses to address a far more complex issue than adolescence, (although this in there too) and entrances the reader with a tale of emotional breakdown and the path to happiness through spiritual enlightenment and self realisation. Thanks to Salinger's unique view of life, this is possibly the most educational book i have ever read. Not only this, but it is beautifully written, whilst remaining entertaining and extremely funny in parts. If you are unsure about buying this book my advice would be to BUY IT NOW! And if you don't laugh, cry, and at somepoint thank GOD (aloud) for Salinger, the Glass family and the Fat Lady, then maybe Salinger just isn't the author for you...
on 14 May 2001
If you read 'Catcher in the Rye' and enjoyed it, you will probably find some of the themes familiar here in this fine but less well-known work. There are two chapters, the first short chapter serves to set the scene and introduce the second. Two Ivy League students meet for a date. The young man is an insensitive intellectual jock. He wants an audience for his loud intellectual pretensions and to have sex, simultaneously if possible. Franny, the young woman, a highly sensitive person, is struggling at college and having a spiritual crisis. She wants to be herself, have integrity, wonders why people play so many games and act out so many unauthentic roles. She wants to feel accepted, and to know the meaning of life. She is still young enough to be able think about life's big questions and feel the pain of having no answers.
In chapter two Franny has returned home to recover her equilibrium, and Zooey her older brother, who is an actor, is in the bath reading a script. Their mother, a remarkable character in her own right, is worried. And rightly so. She thinks Zooey ought to talk to his sister to help her. He proceeds to do so in his own particular and unique way. The characters are all wonderfully described, the jock, the mother, Franny and Zooey. The whole 'action' revolves around the dialogue, mostly verbal fencing, but this is no mere novel of manners. Franny, the mixed up kid, is trying to sort it all out with the aid of a little book 'The Way of a Pilgrim', which is the real-life autobiography of an anonymous Russian beggar in the 1850's, and a spiritual classic in the Christian Eastern Orthodox tradition. The central theme is 'The Jesus Prayer', which a personal meditative prayer. Zooey tries to explain it all to her, but as I have read Pilgrim myself I can tell you he makes a complete fist of it, he mixes it all up with Buddhism and Hinduism. Whether or not he helps, hinders, or does as much harm as good towards her recovery I'll let you read for yourself, it's well worth the effort. I found this book to be a good read, the characters are so real, I felt like I would know them if I met them, but all in all this is not a life-changing work. If you want that, try the 'The Way of a Pilgrim', preferably in the translation by French, which has a few helpful notes. That gets really deep, and really does have the power to change people.
on 7 June 2000
The first thirty or so pages of Zooey are the most beautiful and amazing peice of prose i have eveer read . The style of writting and warmth of characters is a joy to read and then read again . Salinger has a wit and understanding of the English language that is so often forgotten with alot of the comtempary fiction . Here is a craftsman who leaves the reader with a sense of wonderment .
on 11 April 2001
I actually read this before 'Catcher..' and I think I even prefer it, especially Zooey, he seems far more of a cynic and definitely more suited to my age. I'd describe it as 'Catcher..' for grown ups- and no, not much happens in it, but that's life isn't it? It's also inspired me to find 'Way of the Pilgrim'.
on 25 November 2010
'Franny' and 'Zooey' are a pair of interconnected short stories by JD Salinger. Franny and Zooey Glass are sister and brother respectively. Now both in early adulthood the Glass children are struggling to make sense of the adult world and finding it a hostile place. 'Franny' describes Franny Glass' breakdown while out on a date with her college boyfriend, Lane. 'Zooey' takes up the story from her brothers point of view as the Glass family seek to understand what has actually happened to Franny.
One of the motifs of the stories is celebrity. As we are reminded throughout the story 'Zooey' the Glass children are former child stars who once featured in a now defunct radio show called 'It's a Wise Child' An ironic title, perhaps, when we ponder Franny's fate and we also learn that two of the Glass children are now dead. Seymour Glass, having committed suicide. Zooey is also now a handsome young television star in his mid twenties. Evident in the story is also JD Salinger's increasing interest in mysticism. The novella abounds with reference to the Upanishads, the Diamond Sutra and Eckhart. Just prior to her breakdown Franny has become obsessed with the notion of continuous prayer and a mystical Russian text called 'The Way of a Pilgrim'
Both stories make for interesting reading and they are exactly what one might expect from the author of 'Catcher in the Rye' in that they depict the lives of young adults and how they find the adult world lacking. Indeed, when Zooey describes his sister's boyfriend as a 'charm boy and a fake' it could indeed be Holden himself speaking. I greatly enjoyed finding out what Salinger did next after his big hit and 'Franny' and 'Zooey' both provide an interesting insight into their author's state of mind and they speak convincingly-especially through the character of Franny- of the pressures attendant on being young.
on 21 October 2013
This must be one of my favourite novels that I've read in a really long time. Everyone's read Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and almost everyone loves the book, so much so that you rarely ever hear of any of his other works. However, on one of my random trips to the bookstore, I caught sight of this book and the title (comprising of two names) intrigued me. Knowing it was written by Salinger, I decided to buy it, hoping I wouldn't be disappointed.
I started reading this book on a six hour flight, for whatever reason, I expected Franny and Zooey to be about two female characters. I was surprised to find out that Franny and Zooey were brother and sister, with Franny being the latter. The book is divided into two parts:
Franny's section tells the story of Franny coming back from Yale to spend the break with her boyfriend, Lane. Having corresponded with him while away, we get the idea that she is very keen to see him again and spend this time with him, however while on their date she begins to find him increasingly shallow and irritating. This is only exacerbated by his boasting about a certain essay he had written for class. She begins to judge him and to preach about God and more important things in life. Lane is at a loss as he tries to understand this change in her, questioning her attitude, her lack of eating, her disinterest in him and the book that she's reading and seems to hold almost protectively. She reveals that she is reading Way of The Pilgrim, a book about a spiritual and religious journey that inspires her to become more connected with her spiritual self. She excuses herself twice from the table, the second time collapsing while murmuring the Jesus Prayer.
Then begins Zooey's section, which is my favourite section and what made this whole book special for me. Zooey's part is divided into three main scenes, in the first he is lying in a bathtub, soaking while rereading a four year old letter from his brother, Buddy, and his most recent script (he's an actor). His mother suddenly walks in on him filled with concern over his sister, Franny, and pleads with him to speak to her. Thus begins the first of many brilliantly executed dialogues between mother and son. The second scene takes place in the living room, between Franny and Zooey, as he decides to try and speak some sense into his sister after all. This begins the second brilliant dialogue between the characters, leading up to the third and final scene in the book. Zooey having upset Franny, gets up and leaves the room. What follows is a long distance phone call to Franny from Buddy, the brother they haven't heard from in a long time, while Salinger creates yet more magic with his prose.
The way all the events played out made me think of it as a theatrical play. I could see it all playing out on stage so perfectly, the way the dialogue is quick and humorous and sarcastic and oh-so-witty. The characterization so strong that you can feel and see these people in front of you. Zooey's pages are some of the most beautiful and brilliantly written pieces of prose I have read.
There aren't many books like Franny and Zooey being written these days. Catcher in the Rye may have been Salinger's greatest achievement, and I did love it, but personally, I prefer this one.