Fat Books & Thin Women


Review: Salinger’s Franny and Zooey


J.D. Salinger evokes such strong response in people that I am never quite sure what to make of my middling opinion of him. I, too, was forced to read The Catcher in the Rye during my formative years (twice! once by my mother, once by a teacher), and after not getting it the first time, when I was maybe twelve years old, I liked it on the second read.

But everything he’s written, while striking me as “good” in a broad sort of way, doesn’t stick in my mind for more than a few days after I finish reading. When I can reread a book and not realize until halfway through that I’ve read it before, I tend to think there is something wrong with the writing rather than me. (You are free to disagree.)


Not to say that I don’t like Salinger. Franny and Zooey got the things I like about his writing (his ways of describing people) along with the things I dislike (his “tic-y” writing [all those italics and “goddamns”], lack of any significant storyline), thereby landing in the “not bad to pretty good” category of “books i been done read,” or something.

The book contains a short story, titled “Franny,” about Franny Glass and a lunch she has with her boyfriend, Lane, who thinks she is an “unimpeachably right-looking girl” who is not “too categorically cashmere sweater and flannel skirt” (11). Throughout the story Lane asks about a book Franny is carrying, which she claims to have checked out of the school library but actually took from her dead brother Seymour’s room. Franny begins, in this story, to break down, which continues into the following novella about her brother, Zooey.

Occasionally Salinger comes out with these descriptions that are so apt or funny that I don’t think anyone else could have written them, as when Mrs. Glass, “a dedicated medicine cabinet gardener,” brings a package into the bathroom where Zooey is: “It appeared to contain an object roughly the size of the Hope diamond or an irrigation attachment” (73). Or later, when describing Franny’s crying: “She was in fact crying now, but in a very local sort of way, as it were; there were tears but no sounds” (150).

All to say that I think there’s a lot of needless hatred of Salinger, inspired mostly by high school English teachers, but that while there are some things he does well there are a few too many he doesn’t. If I could go back in time I wouldn’t not read Salinger, but I probably would have erased the period when I tried to write like Salinger by inserting “goddamns” into the mouth of all my characters and italicizing words or parts of words in about every goddamn sentence I wrote.

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9 Comments

I have this on my shelf. Given that I’ve had to read Catcher twice for school — and then I reread it last year and HATED it — I’ve been putting this off. sounds like I shouldn’t be so anti-Salinger. Will give it a try.

Comment by rebeccareid

I don’t love Salinger either. I like him, but he’s not my favorite. Of the the two works I have read, I preferred Franny and Zooey. Catcher and the Rye wasn’t my thing – it just feels so contrived.

Comment by Brenna

I suppose you could say that I’ve been lucky enough to not have been forced to read Salinger at school. Salinger isn’t quite as established a cult figure where I am (the arse end of the universe).

My reaction towards Franny and Zooey – the first and only Salinger I’ve read – pretty much consisted of two conflicting positions. First of all, as I started reading it, I felt instinctively put off by the vague sense of pomposity I was picking up on. To be honest, I do generally get quite irritated when reading about precocious types, so that’s probably where the negative reaction came from. On the other hand, I too thought that he had these tremendous turns of phrase that I really enjoyed as individual elements in and of themselves. Also, the ending was unexpectedly beautiful, and that ultimately has left me with a pretty good impression of Franny and Zooey, on the whole.

Comment by R (from the Broke and the Bookish)

I never read Franny and Zooey, but I did read and love Catcher and the Rye. Later, I read Nine Stories, which actually made me like Catcher and the Rye less. Holden’s distinctive voice was revealed to me to really just be how Salinger writes, not the embodiment of a specific character of his, and I was so disenchanted that I gave up my plans of reading F&Z. Maybe one day, but I think that first I need to forgive JD.

Comment by Jennifer Marcketta

ok, i’m so glad you wrote that – that’s one of the things that gets me about salinger, too. all his characters sound the same to me, and i remember being kind of disappointed to find out that holden’s voice isn’t really just holden’s voice. salinger does have these moments where he perfectly describes a scene or a character, but as soon as someone opens his or her mouth a stream of “goddamns” and oddly italicized words busts out. i can forgive him for that because of phrases like the medicine cabinet gardener, but i don’t really understand the hero worship of salinger.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

i thought ‘franny’ was clever, but i really didn’t like ‘zooey’ at all. there was the pompousness, which someone above me mentioned, but i also didn’t like the cold, sardonic manner in which all the characters seemed to speak to each other…and it didn’t seem to me like salinger was aware that his characters were so unappealing. then he puts the story’s kind of epiphany in the mouth of zooey, if i remember correctly? and he delivers the epiphany, which sounds like someone whose been interested in eastern thought for a week or so, in a typically condescending manner. my impression of the story was that it was really nasty. i know it’s supposed to be a dysfunctional family, but there was no point where i felt there was a character that provided an example of alternative behavior.

Comment by mike keane

Salinger had the strongest voice I’ve ever read. His first person dialogue was so real, so in your face. Maybe I feel this way because I read these books in high school & now whenever I’m struck by an arthor’s ability to write in 1 person, or transition from 3rd to 1st, I measure it against Salinger.

I don’t care that the glass family children were precocious, the fictional world that was created around them is a fascinating place to visit. I think that their concerns were all too real (well alright, maybe the Jesus prayer was a tad over the top, but isn’t Franny worried that she’s pregnant? That’s pretty real.)

Comment by flatland57

And Zooey has provided me with a very good reason to explain why I won’t get married: Why I won’t get married: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/why-dont-you-get-married/

Comment by Andreas Moser

[…] Wild (02/04/11) Geraldine Brooks – March (01/31/11) Aristophanes – The Frogs (01/31/11) J.D. Salinger – Franny and Zooey (01/28/11) Bike Snob (01/27/11) Beverly Cleary – Ribsy (01/26/11) Greg Mortenson & David […]

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