I’m not sure if there is much left now by J.D.Salinger that the library has or if there is any more to read. Most of his short story collections have now been covered and at the end you are left appreciating the power of his imagination. The creation of the fictional Glass family is so believable that you keep falling into the mistake of believing that Buddy is J.D himself and his brother must have committed suicide. Over the course of the collections Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and For Esme with Love and Squalor there are all the pieces of the jigsaw to put together not only what happened with Seymour but how his suicide impacted on the key members in the rest of the family.
Like the other two short story collections these stories run into each other both in terms of chronology and the issues being covered. The clever thing is that if you read them with reference to the other it would still work as a readable and provoking piece of fiction.
Franny Glass turns up to meet her boyfriend Lane and rather than just sit their and look pretty and go along to the ball game and make him look good and agree with what he says she picks holes. She starts by undermining his college paper and then starts to reveal her loathing for those who teach at her college and starts talking about phonies. One of the most important revelations is that she has given up acting, something she is very good at, because she feels everyone else involved is a phoney. Lane struggles to cope with her mood and Franny goes to the restroom for air and starts crying and clinging onto a book. The book turns out to be about a Russian peasant who believes that with the aid of knowledge about the ‘Jesus Prayer’ can harmonise with God. She tells Lane all about this but he doesn’t really understand and then as she announces that she is going to the restroom again she collapses and the weekend is effectively over.
Things start with Zooey in the bath reading a letter that is four years old from his brother Buddy advising him not to become an actor without first having completed his PhD. Then Bessie Glass (the mother) walks in and starts annoying him and trying to get his opinion on what is wrong with Franny who is prostrate on the couch and has been off her food and causing concern since being sent home from her weekend with Lane. Zooey takes an age to get ready, is obviously a man of great confidence and appears to be off for a lunch date with a director when he turns into the room where Franny is lying on the sofa. Zooey knows all about the Jesus Prayer and attempts to use a combination of psycho analysis and bullying to get her to snap out of it but fails. He leaves the room and again you assume he is leaving the apartment but he heads to Buddy and Seymour’s room and using the private phone in their old bedroom phones pretending to be Buddy and asks to speak to Franny. he doesn’t fool her for long and you sense he is about the blow it again when he wears his heart on his sleeve admits he feels the way that she does but adds that everyone might be a fool but you carry on because there might be someone with quality among the audience and she is born to act. The message seems to get through and she climbs into her mothers bed and both Franny and Zooey have come to a point where they realise that although their brother’s Buddy and Seymour might have indoctrinated them they did so wisely.
Is it well written?
The stories work particularly well back to back and leave you with a sense of calm after the damage of years of superior thinking are corrected and pointed in the right direction in the younger of the Glass family children. But on their own the stories work with Franny showing the strain of trying to lap up the rubbish that everyone else pedals and falls for. Zooey is also facing that same struggle and reacts with bitterness to those he sees as idiotic. The result is that in their own way both are unhappy and blame their brothers for hard wiring them to think like that. But equally their brothers taught them to be the best you can be regardless of the intellectual depth of those around you and it is that lesson that saves both Franny and Zooey in the end. The fact that the larger issue can carry over until the final paragraph is because of the intelligence in the writing and a confidence with the material. You really believe these people exist at points.
Should it be read?
As I have said after reading some of the other short story collections it is important to see a writer in the round and the mistake of just going for Catcher in the Rye is that although a great book it shows only one side to Salinger. Here is characterisation, within a family, that is stretched over several books of which this is just one. There is an eye for detail and an understanding about the journey the reader is on that makes it a lot easier to read these books with you feeling that you are putting the jigsaw pieces of the Glass family together in a very satisfying way – like collecting a complete set of something. It also reminds you that great writing can take many forms and has the power to provoke and challenge even over 29 pages – the length of the Franny story.
Hold your head up high no matter how bitter and twisted you feel inside because if you have the talent you have to let it shine.
Version read – Penguin paperback