By J.D. Salinger. 1961.
Zooey Glass finds, written on “snow-white beaverboard” in his twin brothers’ old room, a series of quotations. One is from the Bhagavad Gita, and says, in part, “You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work.” Another, by Marcus Aurelius, says, simply, “It loved to happen.”
The first quote is interesting in the context of author J.D. Salinger’s life. Salinger, famously, was a recluse who wrote for hours daily yet rarely published, despite blockbuster success for The Catcher in the Rye. He liked work, and didn’t care for the fruit.
Franny and Zooey is an atypical book, compiling two stories that ran in The New Yorker in the late 1950s. Franny mostly takes place on a date. Franny Glass is out with her insufferable boyfriend. He puffs himself up, oblivious to her intense physical reaction to his hoity-toity Yale bullshit. She’s not eating, can’t focus, excuses herself to go cry in the bathroom. She returns and it worsens, until she cracks.
The question is: Is Franny a brat? She’s rich and brilliant, so might her breakdown be merely obnoxious? To like this book, you probably have to buy this crisis as legit.
Franny is home, in Zooey, with her brother Zooey dispensing advice over many, many pages.
Maybe Salinger didn’t publish more because he wrote so personally. Zooey is family members in rooms together, discussing the meaning of life. Is selflessness the answer? Franny wants to pray so constantly that the prayer becomes unconscious, like a heartbeat. But must she?
Family leads to higher truth. Zooey spends and hour in the bathtub, gently insulting his nagging mother as he not-so-gently demands she get out. Then he goes downstairs to lecture his sister mercilessly. The whole book takes place in about two rooms.
“It loved to happen,” the great Roman king said. Maybe so. Of all the things Salinger wrote, he published Franny and Zooey. He knew he was onto something with this one. It doesn’t have the answer, but it’s earnestly seeking. And it’s short.