Monday, May 5, 2008

FRANNY AND ZOOEY by J. D. Salinger

Franny and Zooey (1961) is J. D. Salinger’s two-part novel about an intellectual and spiritually unfulfilled girl and her intellectual, snobbish brother. This novel features the Glass family, which Salinger has written about on other occasions. The majority of the book consists of three lengthy conversations: between Franny and her boyfriend, between Zooey and their mother, and between Franny and Zooey. The novel is so dialogue-heavy it reads very much like a play. The book’s primary theme is spirituality, particularly of an Eastern bent (which is what Salinger himself was so fascinated by).

What Salinger does very well is communicate his characters’ feelings subtly, through their speech and behavior, rather than by narration, which takes all the style out of things. The reader really feels like he or she gets to know Franny and Zooey (neither of them is particularly likeable, but that’s beside the point).

While the dialogue between Salinger’s characters is generally quite good, they all have the unbearable tendency to launch into unrealistic and lengthy monologues at any given moment. Here, at times, Salinger is in effect preaching to the reader.

Inexplicably, Salinger is eternally focused on smoking. The reader always knows what each character is smoking, whether it’s lit, and what hand he or she is holding it in. It’s to the point of distraction, and serves no reasonable purpose other than to briefly interrupt interminable monologues. Salinger also displays other tendencies to micromanage his characters and their world (he gives ridiculously long descriptions of certain things, most egregiously the contents of the medicine cabinet).

Ultimately, Franny and Zooey’s downfall is that it doesn’t particularly go anywhere. There’s no real payoff. Two hundred pages of pampered, superior huffing and puffing, while entertaining at times and tedious by the end, climaxes with an unsatisfactory piece of basic, Eastern-worldview advice that gets treated as the greatest of revelations.