Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Franny and Zooey

            “Franny and Zooey” is a book by J.D. Salinger and like all books by Salinger, besides his most famous, can’t be discussed without first establishing the speakers opinion of “The Catcher in the Rye.”  As unfortunate as it is that none of Salinger’s other works can seem to escape Holden’s angst riddled little tale, it’s best to get the elephant out of the room as soon as possible.  I seem to be one of the few people who doesn’t have a strong opinion either way on “The Catcher in the Rye.” I didn’t find Holden annoying, as many other contemporary readers seem to have felt, and generally enjoyed the read, but at the same time the book was not life changing or even made a lasting effect on me as rabid fans claim to have experienced.  Never the less, when one of my friends saw me reading “The Catcher in the Rye” and suggested I should also try “Franny and Zooey” I decided to follow her advice.

            “Franny and Zooey” is about the two youngest members of the Glass family: a fictional family that much of Salinger’s canon concerns, though my only previous encounters with them was through the couple mentions they receive in “Nine Stories.”  The book is in two parts.  The first part is the lead up to Franny’s breakdown and the second is the aftermath told largely through Zooey’s conversations with his mother and Franny.

            The novel has several themes.  Similar to “The Catcher in the Rye” disillusionment with the world and the people who inhabit it plays a large part, but in “Franny and Zooey” the characters are older and their reaction is more mature.  The suicide of the siblings’ eldest brother, Seymour, though it occurred years before the novel’s events, is a definite force in the book making the reader question if the character having a breakdown is really the one in the most distress.  Religion, however, is the most dominant theme.  Salinger, a man who was born Jewish Catholic and went on to practice everything from Hinduism to Scientology in his adult life (more about that here), was known for his ever changing beliefs which are very clearly reflected in this novel.  A pretty strong case could be made that “Franny and Zooey” is actually religious fiction but simply slapping on a label like that wouldn’t do this book justice.

            Salinger’s books get called a lot of things from pretentious to grating, but it can’t be denied that he is a fantastic writer.  His ability to completely change voice, the importance he places in details and his knack for weaving humor and heartbreak together so tightly they can’t be separated, really makes his stories a joy to read.  Despite this, it’s true “Franny and Zooey” isn’t for everyone. The slow pacing and tendency to shy a bit too much towards the oblique side of the spectrum may infuriate some readers, but for people who aren’t bothered by those tendencies, even those who didn’t like “The Catcher in the Rye,” will find a richly rewarding book well worth the time it takes to read its scant 200 pages.

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