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Franny and Zooey - J. D. Salinger

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Author: J. D. Salinger / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 04 March 2010 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd / Title: Franny and Zooey / ISBN 13: 9780241950449 / ISBN 10: 0241950449

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      26.03.2012 19:15
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      Excellent

      Franny and Zooey is a book by the famously reclusive (late) author JD Salinger and comprises his short story Franny and the novella Zooey. It was published in 1961 in this collected form although the two stories had appeared individually in the New Yorker several years previously. Franny and Zooey centres around Salinger's fictional Glass family - this family a recurring feature of his short stories with the Glass characters appearing in all his work after The Catcher in the Rye. The Glasses are a large family of Jewish and Irish descent headed by retired vaudeville performers Les and Bessie who live in a large apartment in New York. Some of the children have left home but not all. The precocious Glass siblings vary in ages from college age to mid to late thirties and all have one thing in common that marks them out and unites them. They are all remarkably, ferociously intelligent and all frequently appeared on a fictional radio quiz show called "It's a Wise Child" when they were growing up. It made them famous but while fame was a blessing in some ways (the money they made got them all through college) it was also something of a curse. The public tended to regard the Glass children as eccentric smart arses when It's a Wise Child was running on radio all those years ago. "We're freaks, that's all," says Zachary "Zooey" Glass, one of the title characters here. "Those two bastards got us nice and early and made us into freaks with freakish standards, that's all. We're the tattooed lady, and we're never going to have a minute's peace, the rest of our lives, until everybody else is tattooed, too." As the quote suggests, Salinger, no great fan of fame and attention himself (and that's putting it mildly), uses the Glass family members to express his own thoughts about the cult of celebrity, religion, television, politics, education, conformity, ego, and - most notably here - Zen Buddhist ideas. The name "Glass" is rife with subtext. Glass is many things. Something that one can see straight through. Invisible, reflective, and also capable of holding whatever is put into it. The Glass children are famous for soaking up anything that comes their way - Zooey in particular known for a "somewhat preposterous ability to quote, instantaneously and, usually verbatim, almost anything he had ever read, or even listened to, with genuine interest."

      They are emotional and highly strung and have a unique bond with one another which makes it difficult for them to ever make connections in the world outside their family. The two most important characters in the Glass family (even when they are not part of the direct narrative) are elder siblings Buddy and Seymour Glass. Seymour committed suicide in A Perfect Day for Bananafish from Salinger's For Esmé with Love and Squalor and was like the intellectual guru and spiritual guide of the Glass children - the eldest and the one they all looked to for inspiration and direction. Wisdom even. Even though he is gone his presence is still strongly felt in the story here. Gallagher "Buddy" Glass is the narrator of Franny & Zooey and perhaps the closest to Salinger himself. If anyone is the Salinger alter ego it is Buddy. Buddy teaches Buddhism in his spare time and lives in a cabin in the woods. He never seems to have a telephone so is very difficult to ever contact. All very Salinger. This particular novella centres around 25 year-old Zooey (who now works as an actor) and 20 year-old Frances "Franny" Glass, a college student who also acts. The first story, "Franny" (by far the shortest of the two), has Franny Glass arriving by train to meet her boyfriend Lane Coutell during the weekend of the "Yale" football game. The exact location is never directly stipulated but is generally regarded to be Princeton. These are not run of the mill students. Lane read a letter (which we can read ourselves) she wrote to him while he waited at the train station but it soon becomes apparent to him that the giddy lovestruck (even slightly embarrassing and gushy) tone of the letter doesn't correspond to the Franny that he meets and takes to a chic restaurant lunch room which is popular with the well heeled student crowd. What begins as a romantic story soon takes a darker and more complex turn as the gap between the two seems to grow by the page as they converse in the restaurant.

      Franny can't eat a thing and merely chainsmokes and looks pale ("like a ghost") and fragile. She feels faint. Meanwhile, Lane orders frog's legs and brags about a term paper on Flaubert he might have published. Franny becomes irritated and bored with hearing about the term paper and expresses her profound dislike for college and some of her professors. Education as a whole. It's fatuous and full of phonies and sometimes she can hardly stand it - getting carried away with her rant. "I'm way off. I'll just ruin the whole weekend. Maybe there's a trapdoor under my chair and I'll just disappear." Franny excuses herself to go to the ladies room and sobs in a cubicle. She is having an existential crisis and Lane's boasting and apparent shallowness has merely exacerbated her sense of dissatisfaction with the world. She (just like JD Salinger) is tired of ego and people who "want to make some kind of splash" and get somewhere. "I'm just sick of ego, ego, ego. Mine and everybody else's." Franny has been clutching a small green book the whole time and when Lane enquires about it she explains that it's called "The Way of a Pilgrim" - a 19th century Russian work recounting the narrator's journey as a mendicant pilgrim across Russia while practicing the Jesus Prayer. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Franny has started to mutter the prayer under her breath. She believes an understanding of the book and how to use the Jesus Prayer is a way to see God. One must repeat the prayer until it becomes almost automatic and takes one on the path to enlightenment. "Franny" is a very JD Salinger meditation on inner lives and gestures. How people read each other and how introversion and what is happening inside a person is far more important than what they actually do.

      The story short and revolves almost entirely around a conversation over lunch but manages to be satisfying and leads neatly into the second part of the book. Franny is one of the more sympathetic and likeable of Salinger's characters and although she speaks for him (naturally) he doesn't imbue her with that dry sarcastic mocking (and often too smart arse) New York humour that he was brilliant at but capable of overdoing. Lane gets some of that (he uses the word "goddamn" a lot and it wouldn't be a Salinger story without someone saying goddamn a lot) and is rather shallow (we see that Lane is as concerned about getting to the game on time as much as anything) but also somewhat sympathetic. We do sense that he is doing his best in an unexpected situation. What he represents though is bourgeois conformity and Salinger loathes this with all his heart. The milieu finds Salinger on very firm footing. People drinking martinis and railing against education and human beings. I doubt he had to grasp too much for all of that too much. "Franny" is a clever and interesting story. Rather slight but absorbing and thoughtful nonetheless.

      In the second story, "Zooey", the setting is the large apartment in New York where the Glass family live. It begins with Zooey Glass in the bath reading a four year-old letter his older brother Buddy wrote to him (a long rambling fascinating letter that we get to read for ourselves). Zooey is so clever it almost defies belief and is the handsome one in the family. His older sister Boo Boo described him as "the blue-eyed Jewish-Irish Mohican scout who died in your arms at the roulette table at Monte Carlo." While he is in the bath his mother Bessie asks to come to come in for a minute. An annoyed Zooey ("I'm in the tub for God's sake mother!") pulls the shower curtain around the bath and lets her in where over a long conversation she confesses her worries about his older brother Buddy who is becoming increasingly difficult to contact and also Zooey's young sister Franny who is now home from college after what was apparently a disaster of a weekend with her boyfriend Lane. Franny is zonked out on the sofa in a maudlin world of her own and isn't eating at all. Zooey - if he is ever allowed to get out of the bath! - must be the one who tries to get through to her.

      What is interesting is how this appears to be the Franny from the first story but then again doesn't. Lane is referenced (Zooey of course tags him as a big shallow phoney who probably cared more about the game than Franny) but the Glass family were not mentioned in the first story. It seems to be the same Franny but in the first story she claims to have got The Way of a Pilgrim out of a college library. In the this story she took it out of Seymour's bedroom. Zooey is a much more abrasive and sarcastic Salinger character and supplies this second story with much more humour. "That's the spirit! Make it chicken broth or nothing. That's putting the ole foot down. If she's determined to have a nervous breakdown, the least we can do is make sure that she doesn't have it in peace." Zooey is rather too smug and full of himself at times (and very condescending towards Bessie at times) but Salinger uses him in a key way to stress the theme of the diffused ego. Ego is the ultimate crime in the Salinger universe and one must learn how to negate it. In a sense by having the book apparently written by Buddy Salinger is diffusing his own ego. Zooey also tells his mother about The Way of the Pilgrim (when she enquires about the book Franny is reading) but in much greater depth than Franny did. Franny & Zooey is a Zen tale with Franny on a rocky path to wisdom. While some of the dialogue feels like the author intruding too much on his characters, Salinger is great at setting a scene. The mother/son interaction feels real and there are some nice little details. Zooey noticing a little human vignette when he gazes out the window, Franny camped on the sofa with the family cat Bloomberg. Zooey's eventual attempt to get through to Franny is always interesting and leads to a fairly moving resolution.

      Zooey tells Franny she is merely an amateur dabbler when it comes to interpreting the world and books. "You take a look around your college campus, and the world, and politics, and one season of summer stock, and you listen to the conversation of a bunch of nitwit college students, and you decide that everything's ego, ego, ego, and the only intelligent thing for a girl to do is to lie around and shave her head and say the Jesus prayer and beg God for little mystical experience that'll maker her nice and happy." Franny and Zooey is not as immediate or easy to get into as The Catcher in the Rye or even For Esmé with Love and Squalor but it is very rewarding if you make the effort and a fairly shortish book too (about 130 pages in paperback). Certainly worth a look if you enjoyed the earlier books and of course slightly more special because Salinger wrote so little before he vanished into enigmatic isolation.

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        24.07.2010 12:35
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        Salinger's masterpiece

        Franny and Zooey is Salinger's masterpiece. It is really two interconnected short stories, originally published seperately in the New Yorker, and then wedged together to make a book.

        The first story, "Franny," is the shortest, and is more like a prologue than anything else, setting up the action - Franny Glass returns home from college for a lunch date with her boyfriend. That's the story, mainly, but it's wonderful how much emotion Salinger can convey merely through the use of dialogue and observation. The reader learns that Franny is disillusioned about her life at college, in particular all the "ego" that is involved in this, and which is perfectly demonstrated in her boyfriend, the odious Lane - and that she has taken to repeating a little mantra, or prayer, known as the Jesus Prayer. The story ends with Franny fainting in the restaurant.

        "Zooey" is the best thing Salinger has ever published. It takes place on the following day, as Franny is convalescing at home, and the story is really just two conversations - the first one between Zooey, Franny's older brother, and their mother; and the second between Zooey and Franny.

        It is a deeply philosophical and religious book, but grounded always in regular language. It is amazing how 1950s Jewish American dialogue can still, sixty years later, sound so modern, fresh, and real. Franny is simply one of the most gorgeous characters ever written, and Zooey, and his cigar, is hilarious. An absolute masterpiece.

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          27.06.2002 04:20
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          Franny and Zooey is another instalment of the Glass family saga from writer Salinger. Through out the two short story collections, Salinger has dedicated his talents to describing the life and times of the Glass Family. This is evident in Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction and Nine Stories in which they are the centres of focus. The only outlet of Salinger's intelligence as we saw in The Catcher In The Rye is through the effect the suicide of older brother Seymour has on his other brothers and sisters The novel is a depiction of the exploits of the two youngest children, Franny and Zooey who have been psychologically affected by the suicide of their oldest brother Seymour and the departure of Buddy who resides on campus. Salinger manages to provide a brilliantly introspective piece of literature as Salinger analyses the psychological states of Franny and Zooey. Franny is the brilliant character that Salinger chooses to deeply explore. We are first introduced to her as she recounts with he boyfriend who is rather self-indulged. Here we are introduced to the personality that is Franny, we see the purity of her world and the expectations that she has of others through the conclusions that she harshly draws of her teachers and college piers who she labels as "phoney". Inevitably, a nervous breakdown soon follows. I say that this is exceptional characterization because the reader is soon forced into the realization of the deterioration of Franny and Zooey's mind. We can see the impact that their intelligent and purist brothers Seymour and Buddy had on them. This is where Salinger flips the story so that the reader is now in the position of the youngest children. Polluted with the intelligent expectations of their older brothers, watch as you struggle to maintain a world pure and unbranded, a world burdened to you by your older brothers. Thus, a question is raised; can one possible be too intell
          igent? The novel is split up into two sub-sections in which the integrity of Franny and Zooey's minds are analysed individually. Although Franny is both beautiful and intelligent; "...But nonetheless no one could have missed seeing that she was a first class beauty. Her skin was lovely; her features were delicate and distinctive. Her eyes were nearly the same quite astonishing shade of blue as Zooey's, but were set quite farther apart, as a sisters eyes should no doubt be..." Zooey is the more interesting of the two, simply because of the personality he is forced to adopt; that of a nervous but unique character. Zooey is an actor but still, although portraying the realism of the world he is able to drift far away into a world him and Franny share. This idealism is one, which shall fascinate and intrigue the reader. Salinger's ability to provide detailed and intriguing aspects of the characters in both interesting and educating fashions is one, which commends Franny and Zooey as novel to a very high status. The novel is not too dissimilar from its cousin the Catcher In The Rye, filled with ideas and idealism, Zooey and Franny is a more mature novel but not necessarily better. Both tales show Salinger's unique ability to manipulate human behaviour into exciting motions and realizations, however it is Franny and Zooey, which exhilarates the reader and forces them to adopt the characters viewpoint. For this reason, the reader sees through the eyes of the characters and this is characterization of the highest level. Franny and Zooey is not a novel of story; but a novel of ideas and their consequences.

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            07.05.2002 19:11
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            When I read "Franny and Zooey" for the first time I was at school at a time when almost every high school English class has to face first "The Catcher in the Rye" and then, when they are a bit older, either Shakespeare's "Hamlet" or "A Midsummer Night's Dream". My teacher who had been teacher English for about 25 years luckily told us one fine day that he was entirely sick of talking about exactly the same things all the time, especially since we stundents did not seem to care at all and why bother doing the whole crap anyway, and how stupid of him to hope that he might still find somebody to even pay attention. The next day, he had more or less recovered from his depression and told us that he had found a different solution, one that would please him, his superiors and maybe even (if lucky) also us. The solution was, of course, that we would be reading "Franny and Zooey" instead, not to great a change I thought, but at that point I hadn't read either of the two books yet. The book tells the story of the sister and brother of the Franny and Zooey, both of whom not only are in their way fairly unconventional but who also grow up in a pretty unconventional family in New York. The biggest influence in their lives is their older brother Seymour - at first studying to get his PhD - an intellectual who not only enjoys the fact that he is an intellectual but has dedicated his entire life and existence to studying, up to the point that both he and his younger siblings suffer from their over education. He is particularly interested in oriental arts and religion, causing Zooey's strong depression because 'she cannot get over her ego'. It is especially interesting that Salinger seems to be chosing his characters names for particular reasons: for example, Franny is almost the personification of "frantic" (try to say it with a very strong Texas accent and you'll understand <
            br>) and Seymour is definitely permanently trying to "see more" than there is at first. The book opens with a beautiful scene of an (at that point still unknown man) standing on a platform and silently reading a letter, probably one of the easiest but at the same most impressive ways of making us interested in the letter which is about to follow and of involving the reader and making it totally impossible for one to stop reading on page 2 already. The depression felt by the different characters may at first not seem understandable, than maybe amusing, but in the end one starts truly feeling what they feel, or in my case realising that I am sometimes suffering from exactly the same useless depressions.

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            Published by Penguin Books