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Franny and Zooey ()

Radcliffe 100 Best Novels of the Century (54)

Wow!  This one really blind sided me.  I, of course, love The Catcher in the Rye (see Review), but when I tried reading Nine Stories, I was put off by them, so between that & his notorious silence, I just assumed Salinger was a one hit wonder.  Still, he's got a birthday coming up (1/01/1919) and I found the book for a dollar, so I figured what the heck.  Boy, am I glad.

The book consists of two interconnected stories from the Glass family series, originally published in The New Yorker; Franny is the youngest sister, Zooey the youngest brother.  All seven of the children were featured, each as they came of age, on a radio program called "It's a Wise Child", where:

    In general, listeners were divided into two, curiously restive camps: those who held that the Glasses
    were a bunch of insufferably "superior" little bastards that should have been drowned or gassed at
    birth, and those who held that they were bona-fide underage wits and savants, of an uncommon, if
    unenviable, order.

I wavered between these two opinions, though leaning towards insufferable, through the first story, Franny (1955), which concerns Franny's visit to her college boyfriend as she teeters on the edge of a breakdown, and the first three quarters of Zooey (1957), which opens with an extended scene featuring the visiting TV star Zooey taking a bath and arguing with his mother as she tries to convince him to help Franny, who is continuing her breakdown on the family couch, having abandoned acting class.  It seemed that these characters were simply Holden Caufields a little farther along in life--precocious, bright and charming, but hypersensitive to the point of neuroses.  But then all of a sudden, when Zooey does intervene, the story really takes off.

Franny, who shares with Zooey and her other siblings (and with Holden Caufield) an exasperation with the inadequacies of all those around her and with the problems of the world in general, has become fascinated by the works of a Russian mystic who advocates endless repetition of a certain Jesus Prayer as a means of getting in touch with God.  But Zooey offers an important general observation on such religious self-flagellation:

    ...the religious life, and all the agony that goes with it, is just something God sicks on people who
    have the gall to accuse Him of having created an ugly world.

And he has an even more insightful observation to make about Franny's particular inability to accept the frailties of others:

    But what I don't like--and what I don't think either Seymour or Buddy [older brothers] would like,
    either, as a matter of fact--is the way you talk about all these people.  I mean you don't just
    despise what they represent--you despise them.  It's too damn personal, Franny, I mean it.  You get
    a real homicidal glint in your eye when you talk about this Tupper [one of her professors], for
    instance.  All this business about his going into the men's room to muss his hair before he comes in
    to class.  All that.  He probably does--it goes with everything else you've told me about him.  I'm
    not saying it doesn't.  But it's none of your business, buddy, what he does with his hair.  It would
    be all right, in a way, if you thought his personal affectations were sort of funny.  Or if you felt a
    tiny bit sorry for him for being insecure enough to give himself a little pathetic goddam glamour,
    But when you tell me about it--and I'm not fooling, now--you tell me about it as though his hair
    was a goddam personal enemy of yours.  That is not right--and you know it.  If you're going to
    go to war against the System, just do your shooting like a nice, intelligent girl--because the enemy's
    there, and not because you don't like his hairdo or his goddam necktie.

From there, he continues into a long exposition on the unique character of Jesus, which leads him to expose the egotism that lies at the heart of her misuse of the prayer:'re missing the whole point of the Jesus Prayer.  The Jesus Prayer has one aim, and one aim
    only.  To endow the person who says it with Christ-Consciousness.  Not to set up some cozy,
    holier-than-thou trysting place with some sticky, adorable divine personage who'll take you in his
    arms and relieve you of all your nasty Weltschmerzen and Professor Tuppers go away and never
    come back.  And by God, if you have intelligence enough to see that--and you do--and yet you
    refuse to see it, the you're misusing the prayer, you're using it to ask for a world full of dolls and
    saints and no Professor Tuppers.

He concludes:

    One other thing.  And that's all.  I promise you.  But the thing is, you raved and you bitched when
    you came home about the stupidity of audiences.  The goddam 'unskilled laughter' coming from the
    fifth row.  And that's right, that's right--God knows it's depressing.  I'm not saying it isn't.  But it's
    none of your business, really.  That's none of your business, Franny.  An artist's only concern is to
    shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's.  You have no right to
    think about those things, I swear to you.  Not in any real sense, anyway.  You know what I mean?

Finally, he recalls an admonition delivered by their older brother, Seymour, one time when Zooey was about to go on the radio program and didn't want to shine his shoes:

    I was furious.  The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors
    were morons, and I just damn well wasn't going to shine my shoes for them, I told Seymour.  I
    said they couldn't see them anyway, where we sat.  He said to shine them anyway.  He said to shine
    them for the Fat Lady.  I didn't know what he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look
    on his face, and I did it.  He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the
    Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again...

    ...I'll tell you a terrible secret--are you listening to me?  There isn't anyone out there who isn't
    Seymour's Fat Lady.  That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy.  And all his goddam cousins
    by the dozens.  There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady.  Don't you know
    that?  Don't you know that goddam secret yet?  And don't you know--listen to me, now--don't
    you know who that Fat Lady really is? ...Ah, buddy.  Ah, buddy.  It's Christ Himself.  Christ
    Himself, buddy.

    For joy, apparently, it was all Franny could do to hold the phone, even with both hands.

This beautiful revelatory story is so suffused with empathy, humanity and spirituality, I had very nearly the same reaction as Franny.  Zooey/Salinger has offered a way out of Franny's/Holden's/our' dilemma: the dissatisfaction with the seeming shortcomings of the world and the people around us.  First, we must let go of our obsession with the failings of those around us; we can not be, nor should we try to be, catchers in the rye, trying to save or change everyone.  Second, we must polish them for the Fat Lady; seek to live our lives perfectly, that we may be worthy of the audience, Christ Himself.

If you have ever read and enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, you owe it to yourself to read this book, an extended coda which, in effect, completes Holden's tale.  It is one of the most moving and profoundly Christian works I've ever read.   No wonder folks get so wound up at the thought of what Salinger has been writing during his extended silence.


Grade: (A+)


J. Salinger Links:

    WIKIPEDIA:J. D. Salinger
-ETEXT: Read J.D. Salinger’s first short story to feature Holden Caufield. (Walker Caplan, December 22, 2021, LitHub)
    -PROFILE: J. D. Salinger in Retreat… (Helen Dudar, June 1979, Writer's Bloc)
    -ESSAY: “Predatory Men With a Taste for Teenagers” Joyce Maynard on the Chilling Parallels Between Woody Allen and J.D. Salinger: The novelist, who had a relationship with Salinger when she was 18 and he was 53, on the Allen v. Farrow documentary—and what happens when women tell the truth (Joyce Maynard, APRIL 1, 2021, Vanity Fair)
    -ESSAY: On the Role of Zen Buddhism in the Stories of J.D. Salinger (Avram Alpert, April 7, 2021, Lit Hub)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Paradox of Holden Caulfield: Re-examining The Catcher in the Rye (Chris Beck, 11/25/20, Splice Today)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Revisiting 'The Catcher in the Rye': Holden Caulfield is still lost. Can he be found? (Jon Weisman, 1/14/23, Slayed by Voices)

Book-related and General Links:
-BIO: JD Salinger (+ links)
    -Yet Another Page on J.D.Salinger?
    -Bananafish Home
    -SPARK NOTES: Online Study Guide (Brian Philips)
    -The Holden Server (Salinger, whose censorship by schools many critics lament, forced the guy to take this down, read about the process)
    -LINKS: (The Literature Nook)
    -chat: J.D. Salinger Catcher in The Rye Lecture Hall
    -ESSAY: A Section Man's Experience of The Catcher in the Rye (Jim Rovira)
    -ESSAY:    So where do the Ducks go in the Winter? (Tim Lieder)
    -REVIEW: of Franny and Zooey Anxious Days For The Glass Family (JOHN UPDIKE, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Catcher in the Rye Aw, the World's a Crumby Place (JAMES STERN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Catcher... (Brian Banks)
    -INDEX: Catcher in the Rye (Index of all the book's characters and topics)
    -ESSAY: (BOMC)
    -ESSAY : The truth about J.D. Salinger : We don't need exposés -- as Mary McCarthy showed long ago, the sickness is in his writing. (Geraldine McGowan, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Nonconformism in the Works of J. D. Salinger (April Wildermuth)
    -ARTICLE: J. D. Salinger Speaks About His Silence (LACEY FOSBURGH, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: From Salinger, A New Dash Of Mystery (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: Fire Fails To Shake Salinger's Seclusion (WILLIAM H. HONAN, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: Writer, Twice Restrained, Has New Salinger Book  (EDWIN McDOWELL, February 19, 1988, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of In Search of J. D. Salinger By Ian Hamilton  (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of IN SEARCH OF J. D. SALINGER By Ian Hamilton (Mordecai Richler, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Wilfrid Sheed: The Exile, NY Review of Books
       In Search of J.D. Salinger by Ian Hamilton
    -REVIEW: Steven Marcus: Seymour, NY Review of Books
       Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger


this book rock ryan along with all of salingers other works

- Greg

- Jan-22-2007, 21:32


This book was actually terrible. I am starting to think this site is a good book guide only if one believes the opposite of what the review says

- Ryan

- Dec-14-2006, 13:23


I'm working on an essay about Franny and Zooey and I must say that this review really provides a great way to look at the book. I would also recommend reading "Siddhartha" by Herman Hesse, as it provides many parallels thematically. Thanks for the excellent review, Adam

- Adam Sacarny

- Jan-05-2003, 22:12