BY SEAN CLARK
[This novel is a C4 Great Read.]
Author: J.D. Salinger
1961, Little, Brown & Company
I suspect many of you have already read this book, either because it was assigned in school way back when, or because gobbling up J.D. Salinger is an American teen rite of passage. I, it shames me a little to admit, never did. But now I have. Good on me.
This is going to be a real brief review, and not even much of a review. More of like a signpost point to why you should read this. It’s short, it’s funny, and it’s superbly written. I guess that’s about the sum of it. I’ll go on though.
Franny and Zooey is comprised two short stories (originally published in the New Yorker—in fact, there’s a bunch of good Salinger in their archives, like the novella, Hapworth 16, 1924, unpublished outside the magazine) attached together. As a whole, it makes up about 100 pages and 5 scenes.
Most of the action involves Zooey (his real name is Zachary) spouting from a soapbox to his sister, Franny, or his mother, Bessie, about his sister. Franny is suffering from what would now probably be called a quarter-life crisis. She finds herself halted by spiritual and existential confusion, unable to remove herself from her parents’ couch. Zooey has plenty of opinions on this—and life in general.
The siblings are the youngest of seven precocious and genius children, who grew up on academic tests and regular appearances on a radio quiz show known as “It’s a Wise Child.” They are smarter than most of the world around them, a gift that comes with the price of dissatisfaction with their role in the larger world, depression derived from living amongst perceived mediocrity. It’s a realization that no matter who you are, you are a very small piece in a much larger whole, and the need to accept that. Franny wants to partake in the world without feeling let down with its banality. It seems the challenge Salinger is putting out there for Franny to face is how to love the world for what it is without condescending to it.
This sentiment is crushing the young Franny; it’s one Zooey is aware of and actively tackling/evading. If you can’t or won’t cope (remain a “freak” as Zooey puts it), it can have effects such as reclusion or suicide, as evidenced by two of their brothers. It’s a sentiment felt at one time or another by (I’m guessing) most every teenager and young adult that ever had half a brain. Because of this, Franny and Zooey is not unlike Salinger’s masterpiece, Catcher in the Rye. The situation might not be the same, but the subject at hand, and the characters delivering it, are supremely relatable to readers of a certain age.
That’s not to say this is merely a kid’s book; nor is it YA. It can speak to a broader audience. I’m not a teenager any longer, but I still tore through this book in record time. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back and read it again in the very near future. Franny and Zooey is a fun and funny and interesting read. It’s a gread read. So give it a shot.
Similar Reads: The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger), A Zoo Story (Albee), On the Road (Kerouac), The Complete Stories of Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway)