Franny and Zooey* sounds like it’d be a Netflix show about female best friends going through a mid-life crisis. Fran gets pissy that Bart wants to grow out his sideburns and Zooey whines that Dennis won’t stop feeding pigeons on their walks. In actuality, it’s a combination of two short stories by J.D. Salinger, originally published separately in The New Yorker as Franny (1955) and Zooey (1957). I’ve been a subscriber to the renowned Condé Naste magazine for all of thirty days now, but I can already vouch for its good taste in fiction. The three issues that I’ve owned thus far feature short stories that have struck me as both introspectively sentimental and intellectually engaging. Franny and Zooey is no exception.
For as short as Franny is, it packs quite a punch. Salinger trickily starts out the story by focusing on her lame ass boyfriend, Lane. We think that it’ll be all about him and we inwardly puke at his concern for appearances and postured sophistication. At his arm, Franny comes off as vapid and mindless until BAM…she’s throwing not-so-casual questions about the meaning of life at her boyfriend over dinner. He tries to evade her existential lobs but to no avail. She’s insistent upon figuring out the best way to make a lasting impression in this life without becoming a self-interested douchebag. Her attack on Lane’s college professors hints that she wants to make a difference in society; she hopes to leave a beautiful legacy but that’s becoming less and less possible because she thinks that everything is steeped in arrogance. Here, we have Salinger’s distinctive complaints: everyone is a conformist and that makes them phony. And if you deliberately rebel against the textbook trend of humanity, you’re just a different type of conformist-phony! You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Franny is the female version of Holden Caulfield, except she’s slightly less naïve (and admittedly, less off-putting). Both Franny and Holden recognize the superficiality of the world—specifically the adult world—and they don’t want any part of it. But if they don’t have any place within the world, where does that leave them? How can they find the sweet spot where they leave their own unique and beautiful watermark without just stinking up the place with more egotism? It seems that Salinger poses these questions and then lets readers answer them on their own.
In Zooey, we learn a little more about Franny and her lineage. Franny and Zooey are siblings who grew up in a freakishly savant family. Salinger uses very specific language to convey his ideas and the dialogue in Zooey is characteristic of his tendency to express frustration through explicit speech. Perhaps this is Salinger’s own beautiful watermark on the literary community. Zooey shows us a talented youth burdened by intellect. He struggles between bitterness towards the wisdom that accompanies his smarts and gratefulness that he’s not just another egghead drinking the Kool-Aid. He also happens to be smugly hilarious, as when he quips, “‘It probably wasn’t anything you couldn’t watch while you were cutting your toenails’” (Salinger, 143). The climax of the novella is when Zooey confronts Franny about her melancholic behavior. He throws some perspective on her dissatisfaction with humanity as it is, noting that it’ll just drive her crazy if she overanalyzes the current state of affairs. Yet, it seems that he doesn’t take his own advice…
Taken individually, Franny and Zooey are heavy pieces; together, they’re bound to make you feel like you just swallowed a tub of ice cream. Franny and Zooey as characters are both so wrapped up in the negatives of life that they can’t actually notice anything nice in the world. At the same time, the book is indispensible. I’m a Salinger apologist. He forces us to confront what we’re all thinking: how do I create something in life that is lasting and meaningful? How do I avoid growing up and becoming a sucky adult? As a result, I give Franny and Zooey 5 out of 5 camel humps.
*Salinger, J.D. Franny and Zooey. New York: Bantam Books, Inc. 1961. Print.