Monday, December 19, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Several years ago, my sister asked me if I had ever read J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. I had not. Catcher in the Rye was quite enough for me. I read that in high school and found it hard going. But she said I would like this one and she knows me awfully well, so I thought I’d better read it.

I mentally added it to my list. I picked it up and put it down in bookstores several times. I thought about requesting it from the library. Somehow I never could quite summon up the enthusiasm to commit. Not until the Borders going-out-of-business sale. There it was on the shelf. A discounted paperback staring me in the face. What was I waiting for? I had no choice but to buy it.

And this weekend I finally read it.

Franny and Zooey is, as I understand it, two short stories woven together. They relate an incident from the lives of the two youngest Glass children. Franny is nearly finished with college when she has a nervous breakdown (in the day’s terminology.) Sickened by the phoniness and egoism of everyone around her, she is unable to stand being at school anymore. She makes a brave effort to visit her boyfriend Lane at a nearby college for the big weekend Yale football game, but he is the worst posturing phony of all. Unable to continue the charade, she haltingly confides what ails her. She tries to tell him about a book she has been reading that has been providing spiritual enlightenment. She is now attempting to follow its precepts by continually praying The Jesus Prayer. Lane doesn’t understand. He doesn’t want to understand – he wants to go to a cocktail party and then to the game. Fanny—dizzy, sweating, and ill—finally faints, bringing their weekend together to a close.

Franny goes home. This is where the reader meets Zooey, her slightly older brother. (Their mother, Bessie, is there, too.) First, Bessie tries to convince Zooey to talk to Franny. Apparently, Zooey already has talked to her. After a lengthy argument with his mother, Zooey does, in fact, go out (they were arguing in the bathroom) and talk to Franny again.

This is the story in a nutshell. The amazing thing is how bizarrely entertaining the book is, considering it is simply a prolonged gabfest. Nothing happens. The characters are arrogant, irritating, funny, and poignant. They are too intelligent for their own good. It leaves them bored with the world, cynical, and convinced of their own superiority. But being this way has made them miserable. Moreover, they’re aware that their misery is their own fault. I found myself caring for them even though I don’t think I’d want to be trapped next to one of them at a social function.

Salinger is an extraordinary writer. The characters were very real. I could see the settings precisely and watch the scenes as though I were watching a play. The humor leaped out at unpredictable moments, biting and cruel, but the love between the brother and sister was subtly sweet, and the contrast made me more aware of both.

The final verdict is I enjoyed the book so much I might just have to give Catcher in the Rye another chance.


  1. I too had a bad experience with Catcher in the Rye that put me off trying any more Salinger. Maybe I will give this one a go at some point ...

  2. I actually liked Catcher in the Rye, which I read on my own and not for school, which sometimes makes a difference in the reading experience. I'm wondering though if I will still like it now several years later :/ This sounds interesting--I might give it a try. Thanks for your review :)

  3. I read Catcher in the Rye as an adult, only a few(ish) years ago I think. I really enjoyed it. It was interesting to read your review, I've seen it around before too, and wondered about it. Will have to put it on the get to it sometime list too.

  4. I read Franny and Zooey right after Salinger died. I had loved Catcher in the Rye in high school, but had never read F&Z. I wasn't as into it as I expected to be, but I still enjoyed it.

  5. I enjoyed this book is because you can definitely see what an influential author he was.