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Posts Tagged ‘J D Salinger’

When I was discussing J.D.Salinger books with one of my friends a long time back, she told me that her favourite Salinger book was ‘Franny and Zooey‘ and she liked it more than ‘The Catcher in the Rye‘. I was surprised. I had read ‘The Catcher in the Rye‘ years back and I remember liking it, though I can’t remember much of the the plot now. I hoped to read ‘Franny and Zooey‘ someday and find out how I felt about it. I finally read it today.

‘Franny and Zooey’ has two stories, ‘Franny‘ and ‘Zooey‘. ‘Franny‘ is around 30 pages long and ‘Zooey‘ is around 100 pages long. The main characters in ‘Franny‘ are Franny and her boyfriend Lane. They are both students in college, and they meet during a weekend and have a long conversation. The conversation is about poetry, literature, theatre and related things. Reading this story is like watching the movie ‘Before Sunrise‘ – there is no plot and it is all conversation. But the conversation here is more sharper, less pleasant, making it very interesting.

In ‘Zooey‘, the main characters are Zooey, his mother Bessie and Franny. We learn at the beginning of the story that Zooey is the brother of Franny and Franny is the youngest at home. (In case you are wondering, because Zooey is such a unique name, the actress Zooey Deschanel, who used to star in the TV show ‘New Girl‘, is named after this Zooey.) They have other siblings too. The story ‘Zooey‘ is also mostly a conversation, or rather two conversations. In the initial part of the story, the conversation is between Zooey and his mother Bessie. During this conversation, we discover that Bessie is worried about all her children, especially about Franny, and wants Zooey to talk to her and find out what is happening. Bessie reminded me of the matriarchal characters in Anne Tyler’s books, especially ‘Breathing Lessons‘, who try intervening and intruding frequently in their children’s lives. Bessie is very likeable though. The second part of the story features a long conversation between Zooey and his sister Franny. They discuss literature, teaching, theatre, the educational system, spirituality, the meaning of life and other fascinating things during this conversation. We learn a little bit about their other siblings and the interesting, happy and sad things that happened in their family in the past. ‘Zooey‘ is clearly a sequel to ‘Franny‘ but the two stories can be read independently too.

So what do I think about ‘Franny and Zooey‘?

The first thing I want to talk about is the physical book. It has a simple plain cover, there is no blurb, no review excerpts, no description of the story on the cover, no description of the author, no notes in the end. Nothing. Nada. You open the book and just get started with the story. There is nothing between you and the story to distract you. All inessentialities which are not required have been cut out. I found this quite fascinating because I have found only French books (and some other European books) to be like this – minimalistic in design which let the book do the speaking. I have never seen an English book like this. It appears that Salinger might have personally wanted his book to be like this and his publishers continue to honour his wish.

The second thing I want to talk about is the structure of the book.I found the structure of the book – no plot, some descriptions, long conversations – very fascinating. Salinger says this at the beginning of ‘Zooey’ –

“To get straight to the worst, what I’m about to offer isn’t really a short story at all but a sort of prose home movie, and those who have seen the footage have strongly advised me against nurturing any elaborate distribution plans for it.”

The experience of reading ‘Zooey’ is almost like reading a play, written in story form. I hope someone adapts it into a play and stages it, if it hasn’t been done already. It will work brilliantly, I think. The themes of the conversations are also very interesting. My most favourite part is when Franny and Zooey are discussing the purpose of life and the meaning of life and how to live an authentic life, and whether to pursue the path which leads to wealth, fame, power or take the intellectual path which leads to more knowledge or take the spiritual path which leads to more peace. Franny and Zooey have different points of view on this, which makes the conversation more fascinating. J.D.Salinger’s prose is beautiful, and the book is a pleasure to read. It is not to be rushed through but to be savoured, pausing at a beautiful sentence or turn of phrase when it makes an appearance, and lingering on for a while, enjoying its elegance and beauty.

I know now why my friend loved ‘Franny and Zooey‘ more. How can we resist loving a book which is just one long conversation? I loved it too and I am very happy and glad that I finally read it. I just wish I had read it when I was in my teens or early twenties – I would have loved it even more. There are two more slim Salinger books out there that I haven’t read. I hope to read them someday.

Have you read ‘Franny and Zooey‘? What do you think about it?

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