Franny & Zooey
Author: J.D. Salinger
Published by: Penguin
My Rating: ★★★★
Published by: Penguin
My Rating: ★★★★
‘Everything everybody does is so – I don’t know – not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and – sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you’re conforming just as much only in a different way.’
This is great; it really is. I’m endlessly impressed by the power of some authors to touch me with the strength of their voices, their prose, their characters, and their stories, especially in such a short number of words. This book is a perfect example. In just 150 pages Franny and Zooey offers a funny, poignant snapshot of young adulthood. In this unique and challenging classic, Salinger’s writing is glorious, and the characters leap off the page.
Franny and Zooey are a pair of precocious siblings within the Glass family, a fictional, upper class New York family who were frequently the subject of Salinger’s short stories. Through these stories, Salinger takes a simple premise and makes it a meditation on religion, family and academia. The style moves between essay, fiction and script with ease.
First published in The New Yorker as two sequential stories, ‘Franny’ and ‘Zooey’ offer a dual portrait of the two youngest members of J. D. Salinger’s fictional Glass family. They both come from a sophisticated yet highly eccentric family, all seven siblings were former child stars, all strange and enchanting and damaged in their own ways. The first story sees Franny suffering from the beginnings of a mental breakdown at university, and in the subsequent novella we follow her as she returns home to the family’s apartment in New York where Zooey (who is arguably on the edge of a breakdown himself) attempts to comfort her.
The first story presents Franny as the fresh-faced American college girl, who arrives by train to meet her intellectually-confident boyfriend, Lane, ahead of a big university football match. Franny’s collegiate boyfriend Luke manages to be a caricature while being totally believable at the same time. They appear to be the perfect couple, but as they struggle to communicate with each other about the things they really care about, slowly their true feelings come to the surface. This story describes the beginnings of a spiritual and emotional breakdown suffered by Franny, the beautiful but neurotic teenager.
Zooey is much longer and features three acts. In the first, Franny’s brother Zooey Glass discusses Franny’s breakdown in the tub with their mother Bessie. Zooey plunges us into the world of this ethereal, sophisticated family. Zooey is Franny's older brother, and when Franny’s emotional and spiritual doubts reach new heights, he offers her consolation and brotherly advice. Zooey switches wildly from being a sympathetic character to a heartless monster from page to page. This makes Zooey a little disorientating at times but always compelling.
The book explores religion in an engaging, relatable way. Franny's questions are universal, and Zooey's answers are valid.
Presented as two separate, yet eternally linked stories, Salinger experiments with the way we craft our identity in our formative years. Franny and Zooey brilliantly captures the emotional strains and traumas of entering adulthood. It is a great example of the wit, precision, and poignancy in J.D. Salinger’s work. The first of the stories, Franny, was my favourite, but both parts work well together to offer a dual portrait of these two youngest members of the Glass family.
This was my first exposure to Salinger. I’ve made attempts in the past to read Catcher in the Rye, but I was never able to fully connect with it. A friend recently raved about Franny and Zooey so I decided this would be my real introduction to Salinger. To say I was enthralled with Salinger’s writing would be an understatement.
Literally no one needs me to tell them this book is wonderful, but it is and I’m saying it anyway.