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.