Classic #5: FRANNY AND ZOOEY, by J.D. Salinger

Even though I wasn’t able to get 12 classics read in 12 months, I liked my original idea of reviewing each classic I read, and I still want to record my thoughts on any I happen to read from here on out. So perhaps this will simply become my first blog-post series: reviews of classics. I can live with it if you can. (PS – This might be my shortest review yet!)

My experience with Salinger is limited. I hated The Catcher in the Rye. I suspect I would still dislike it if I read it again, though I don’t know that I would hate it. A few years have passed since my first reading, and I have experienced different parts of life, so there might be portions of the book I can better understand or more readily identify with. On the whole, however, after finishing Franny and Zooey, it seems that existential crises are Salinger’s specialty and not mine at all. Maybe I’m just not intelligent enough to have an existential crisis (but we’ll get to that).

In any case, for those who aren’t aware (I wasn’t), this book is comprised of a short story (“Franny”) and a novella (Zooey). The two pieces were actually published two years apart originally, but in the fictional timeline of the characters, they take place within just one or two days of each other. I rather enjoyed (and flew through) “Franny” and was therefore excited to dig into Zooey, but I was less enamored of the novella, even though it did make me laugh a few more times.

F&Z is an excerpt from the life of the Glass family, a family Salinger apparently wrote about a lot, in numerous other short stories and (possibly?) novellas. This family, as seems to the be the case with most large families, is dysfunctional to the highest degree. (Why does it seem that, the more family members you add to the pot, the higher the level of dysfunctionality rises?) The Glass children are a product of a wealthy, privileged, even spoiled existence. They were all radio stars through their childhood years, and now two of the seven siblings are dead; one by suicide, one from war.

The primary focus of the story is Franny’s internal crisis that seems to cover three different dimensions: existentialism, spirituality, and identity. The secondary focus is Franny’s and Zooey’s relationship to each other and to the rest of their family. Zooey and Franny are the youngest of the Glass children, with Franny being five years behind her brother. Both pieces are almost entirely dialogue, and the entire arc of the story begins and resolves over the course of four scenes. There is a lunch, a bath, a living room discussion, and a phone conversation. This aspect is what LF says makes the work brilliant. I disagree because it was exactly this aspect that made it borderline boring for me. Dialogue does propel a story, but so does action. As with everything, there should be a balance.

However, that being said, even though the constant dialogue creates a stream-of-consciousness style that I usually hate, I somehow found it less hateful in this instance than in others. When it’s Faulkner, for instance, you just get this exhausted feeling, drained further by a need to follow a train of thought that isn’t even following itself. The effort it takes to connect the beginning of a Faulkner sentence to the end of one is so tiring and completely infuriating once you finally realize it can’t even be done. However, that’s Faulkner narrating. In Salinger’s work, the stream of consciousness comes directly from the characters, so that makes it somehow excusable. When Salinger does narrate, it’s either to provide some character context that is either enlightening or funny (or both, in the case of almost all descriptions of Mrs. Glass), or to poke fun at himself as an author, which is also funny, but also respect engendering. I can get on board with any author willing to make fun of himself or his craft.

Overall, I didn’t love Franny and Zooey, but neither did I hate it. I didn’t even come close to hating it, in fact. But it left me with the feeling at the end that I had missed something huge, something important and significant, something deeply intelligent. So, even though I can’t say I disliked it, neither can I say I loved it because I feel so unsettled in its wake. And that is why I haven’t ventured a more complicated analysis than I have, as I usually do in my reviews. I just feel so ill equipped to address the complexities of the work that I’d rather not attempt it at all.

A non-surprising fact is that LF loves this book. I say it’s non-surprising because he always seems to love literature that I find to be too smart for me. When he asked me if I had anything to say about the book as a whole, I said no. And then I talked to him for a good 20 minutes about various parts I liked or didn’t like or appreciated or didn’t understand. So I guess I had plenty to say, but I’m not sure much of it was coherent. Suffice it to say, I would recommend the book to pretty much anyone but mostly because it just seems like one of those books that it feels good to have experienced. I will probably read it again someday, since it is so digestible, and I hope I will understand and enjoy more of it when I do.

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11 Comments

Filed under bloggy, books, classics, goals, reviews

11 responses to “Classic #5: FRANNY AND ZOOEY, by J.D. Salinger

  1. b longfellow

    I think perhaps the main reason for you liking the book may be closer to mine than you realize. As you put it, “it feels good to have experienced [F & Z]”. I think this is pretty much why I like it too. I feel at the end like I know Franny and Zooey and Mrs. G. because somehow in their interactions their personalities come through. They’re annoying at times but consistently human, and so I guess I kind of respect them for being who they are. I think I like To Kill a Mockingbird for similar reasons; I feel like I know them at the end of the book and laugh (or cry or whatever) because what they do is so them.

    Glad you liked it. Perhaps I could convince you to try Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters?

    • LF,

      I still don’t agree that we like it for the same reasons. I get the idea that you think it feels good to have experienced it because you’ve been given a front-row seat to the revelation of some odd and very individual characters. I, however, say it feels good to have experienced it mainly because it’s a classic and well known and I rather prefer to be more inside the loop than out when it comes to being able to say I have or haven’t read something. My “it feels good to have experienced it” is superficial, whereas yours is exactly what it’s supposed to be. And, in my mind, this book doesn’t even come *close* to TKAM, so I’m not willing to compare them. I am willing to try the roof beam suggestion if it is, as I assume, another Glass story.

  2. I know exactly what you mean when you say you feel unsettled, as though you missed something. I have not liked books (and movies, in fact) for that very reason. I have a book in mind that made me feel like this, and it’s annoying me that I can’t remember what it is. I probably blocked it out :) Finally, I like that you talked about stream of consciousness in your review and then concluded with a statement about your less-than-coherent conversation with LF.
    I feel like this book will go on my “to read at some point but not immediately” list. Glad you’re still doing reviews on classics!

    • Reese,

      I’m so glad to hear that you’re able to identify with my feelings about this book because I certainly felt as if I hadn’t adequately explained myself, which I felt was a result of not adequately understanding the book as a whole. I don’t know about you, but I just hate feeling like I don’t understand a piece of literature that is supposedly this great masterpiece. It makes me feel stupid, and I suppose it’s reasonable to admit that I don’t like feeling stupid. And yes – I wouldn’t rush to read this one if I were you. It’s my honest opinion that there is better stuff out there. (Dang, I hope LF isn’t disappointed in me for saying that.)

  3. Marissa

    I know this was not at all the point of your post, but thanks for the note about Faulkner. I’ve been reading The Sound and the Fury, and I am relieved to know that someone else finds his writing exhausting. Possibly I should ask LF what makes that book so great too. Or maybe I should just take a break and try Salinger. :-)

    • Marissa,

      Thanks for commenting! Totally made my day! I totally understand where you’re coming from on The Sound and the Fury, and all I can tell you is, I’m sorry! And I actually don’t think LF enjoyed that particular Faulkner work. I seem to remember him saying it was one of the less enjoyable ones, but I could be wrong. It’s hard to keep up with him and his literature.

      • b longfellow

        If reading were required in hell, and one book had to be read repeatedly, Absalom, Absalom! would be worthy of sustaining much torment.

    • b longfellow

      Sound and the Fury – how far along are you? It’s important to know that Part One is narrated by the mentally challenged Benji and that his memory does not distinguish time periods, so a memory from when he is 23 might be juxtaposed with a memory from when he is 8, but no clue is given, so it’s very confusing for the reader. (Also confusing is that there are two Quentins, one boy, one girl, and Benji doesn’t offer any reader-clues as to which is which.) Even knowing this, part one is tedious, but parts two and three, narrated by Quentin and Jason respectively, fill in most of the gaps and putting the puzzle together is part of the fun, I guess.

      • Marissa

        I got the part about Benji, but then he lost me with the two Quentins. I had concluded that he/she was transgender! I guess it is a little like a mystery. I’m still going, but my next book is going to be better. Maybe I’ll switch to Stephen King per Audra’s recommendations. :-)

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