Author: JD Salinger
Details: (c) 1955 JD Salinger; Pub 1979 Bantam Books; ISBN 0-553-12763-2
Verdict: Franny and Zooey is a nice essay with just enough characterization to make a story.
Reasons for reading it: I thought that Catcher in the Rye was the most overrated piece of absolute junk I'd ever wasted my time on. So I wasn't particularly interested in reading any more Salinger, except that people whose opinions I respect rave about Franny and Zooey, particularly loreid and penmage.
How it came into my hands: People were giving away books at the Rosh HaShanah party at the weekend, so I grabbed this.
Franny and Zooey worked for me. I don't think it's the most wonderful super amazing thing ever written, but it was an enjoyable read and made its point well and with reasonable subtlety. Franny is a very nice vignette of a college romance. Lane is impressively awful without being a caricature; the reader can sympathize with him. And Franny is obviously too good for him, without being teeth-grindingly perfect or making the whole relationship implausible. I think the way her character is set up definitely enhances the meatier piece, Zooey; without it, the latter would seem like a rather stagey dialogue.
Zooey presented a very three-dimensional and interesting background for the two siblings, enough that I was interested in the random philosophical conversation they happened to have and the minutiae of their emotional development which make up most of the novella. I particularly liked the frame with the older brother, Buddy; along with the prequel, that made the whole thing a lot more vivid. The discussion itself didn't tell me anything very amazing or novel, but I can imagine how I might have been really impressed with it if I had read it as a young teenager. It deals with topics that matter greatly to sensitive and intellectually precocious teenagers, but which are not often discussed explicitly in YA literature. It would probably appeal to a similar group of people to those who fall madly in love with Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance or obsess over Hesse.
The other element that makes me sympathetic towards the book is that Franny's slightly pathetic attempt at a crisis reminds me of something similar that I went through when I was about her age. In my case, MK played the role of Zooey in more or less bullying me into pulling myself together, backing up some rather harsh words with an evident tenderness that did me far more good than taking my histrionics seriously would have done. Obviously the situation isn't completely identical, but it's similar enough that the book struck a chord.
One element that annoyed me in Catcher is also present in F&Z: the characters all swear not only too much, but implausibly, which is worse. Salinger seems to have an excellent eye for character, but a horribly poor ear for dialogue, which makes for an odd combination.