First of all, I’m not a huge reader of classic American literature. For one, I have a taste aversion to this group of literature that dates back to my junior year of high school in my AP US History and English class. Even being a big reader and an English lit major in college–thus being required to take various Am. lit classes–I never got into reading classic American literature; I couldn’t care less about whaling ships, the frontier, or whether Bartleby would prefer to or not.
However, as of late, and probably due to the RGRC, I’ve started to realize how much of classic American literature I’ve missed out on. For one, I thoroughly enjoyed American Psycho and plan to become more familiar with Bret Easton Ellis’s body of work. And Hunter Thompson is one of my favorite writers to date. So, maybe I just haven’t been reading the right American literature.
This book comprises two short stories that were originally published in The New Yorker, Franny (1955) and Zooey (1957). The stories follow two members of the Glass family–a family that Saligner wrote about numerous times. In Franny, the title character is visiting her boyfriend, Lane, at another school for the Yale game. According to their conversations during lunch at a restaurant, she seems dissatisfied at her own school and fed up with the intellectual egos she notices on a daily basis. She tells Lane about a book she’s been reading, “The Way of a Pilgrim,” and how she’s become interested in ceaselessly praying. The story ends with Franny fainting and waking up in the restaurant manager’s office, mouthing words. In Zooey, the reader learns Franny has returned home to rest from her fainting spell, and the reader also meets one of her older brothers, Zooey. The reader learns Zooey and Franny were both introduced, by their oldest brothers, to Eastern religion and philosophy as children, which somewhat explains Franny’s obsession with “The Way of a Pilgrim.” There are various conversations between Franny, Zooey, and their worried mother, and in the end, Franny peacefully falls asleep.
Despite my newfound yearning to read more classic American literature, and me finishing Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, I still had a hard time digesting the short stories as well as answering the question, “What’s the point?”. Thus, I took to previous readers’ perceptions of the novel to help form my own–a tactic I strongly suggest when one finishes a book and says “so what?”.
First, I checked out the reviews on Goodreads, which I actually do after every novel I finish, and not a page before, and saw what some of my peers were saying about the book. As I was expecting, it had mixed reviews. But the one comment that struck me the most was said by a faceless user, Kelli, “Read it again. And then again. And then again. There will be some point in your life that it will become incredibly dear to you. You just have to be at that right point of your life for it to take hold.” I totally get where Kelli is coming from, as I believe there are books out there that only speak to some people, and personal experience adds so much more to a story sometimes than what an author can fully convey.
But I wanted a more critical review of this set of stories because I became frustrated with myself that I wasn’t yet at said point in my life. Thankfully, I came across a 1961 review of the set of stories in The New York Times by John Updike. It seems Updike, though a fan of Salinger, didn’t necessarily think the two stories meshed well–that the Franny in Franny and the Franny in Zooey are not the same characters. Despite his downfalls, Updike and I both agree that Salinger’s best quality as a writer is the way he creates action in very action-less stories by describing each character’s thoughts, motivations, surroundings, and subtleties in great detail: “As Hemingway sought the words for things in motion, Salinger seeks the words for things transmuted into human subjectivity … It pays the price, however, of becoming dangerously convoluted and static.”
Although I’m not convinced I read this book at the total “right time” in my life, I think I kind of get it. Personally, I think by the end of Zooey, Franny has somehow accepted the idea that ceaselessly praying and constantly searching for Jesus (or any higher power) distracts from the now– hence her peacefully sleeping at the end of Zooey versus mouthing words (to the Jesus Pray) at the end of Franny. The Fat Lady ties into this somehow, as she’s “Christ Himself,” and since everyone is The Fat Lady, everyone has a bit of Jesus (or any other higher/spiritual power) in them, and Franny recognizes this at the end of her final conversation with Zooey.
To Read or Not to Read?
Whether or not you liked The Catcher in the Rye (another one I want to reread) will clue you into if you’ll like this set of stories. I’ll proabably wait a few years and give Franny and Zooey another read, just like Kelli suggested.
Whew, did you get all of that? What are your thoughts on classic American literture? Do you enjoy reading Salinger?