'Voice' on Literature

Reviews of the last 50 years

Norton Juster, working the ancient tradition of allegorical adventure, has stayed perfectly true that that [sic]tradition's moral and didactic purposes. But he has done so without the usual belaboring of the obvious. His tale of a boy's adventure in The Doldrums, the Kingdom of Wisdom, and the Mountains of Ignorance dances with wit, invention, and the unexpected—including such characters as Officer Shrift, a short man in more ways than one; Faintly Macabre, who is a Which; the Sense Taker; and .58 of a child from an average family, whose solace is that nobody in the family but him can drive .3 of an automobile. About the time that one has decided the pun is a most admirable, illuminating, and economical form for imparting meaning, Mr. Juster slyly introduces the Wordsnatcher, a very dirty bird who demonstrates how suffocating puns can be. [return to top]

March 8, 1962

Franny and Zooey
By J. D. Salinger
Little, Brown, $4.

by Eliot Fremont-Smith

J. D. Salinger is unique among contemporary authors. Relative to his tiny output (one novel and two volumes of 11 short stories in 10 years), the attention he has received easily eclipses that given any other writer. College students across the land wean themselves on "The Catcher in the Rye" (as preparation for "The Naked Lunch," one cynic suggested), and by latest estimate some 300 colleges have been badgered into adopting it as assigned reading. In sales, "Catcher" is rounding the 2-million mark; "Franny and Zooey" has led the best-seller lists since its publication last September, and shows no signs of stepping down.

"Franny and Zooey"—for those who have been vacationing at Cape Canaveral—consists of two loosely related stories, published in the New Yorker in 1955 and 1957, concerning the moral crisis of Franny Glass. They are part of a continuing series about the Glass family which also includes "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948), "Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters" (1955), and "Seymour: An Introduction" (1959).

Indomitable Talker
The senior Glasses are a Jewish-Irish ex-vaudeville couple who maintain a bustling middle-class apartment in the 70's. Les, the father, has more or less retired from the scene; Bessie, an indomitable talker, worrier, and chicken-broth-hawker, wanders around in her kimono doing her not ineffectual best to find out what is happening to her gifted, neurotic offspring.

These number seven. The eldest, favorite, and continuing spiritual mentor for the whole family was, or is, Seymour, who committed suicide on his honeymoon in 1948 ("Bananafish"). Next is Buddy, a "writer-in-residence" at an upper New York State girls' school, and of whom more anon. Then come Boo-Boo (married and a mother) and the twins, Walt and Walker (the former killed in a freak accident while on occupation duty in Japan, the latter a Roman Catholic Priest).

Zooey, the next-to-youngest, "surpassingly handsome, even spectacularly so," is a successful television actor and the only one of the seven who still lives at home. Franny, the youngest, is in college and seems also destined for an acting career. This, by the way, comes naturally, not merely from parental vaudeville background, but also from the startling circumstance that all seven children starred, at one time or another, on a quiz-kid radio program saccarinely called "It's a Wise Child."

In the first story, Franny arrives for a football week-end at her boy friend's college (Yale, Princeton, or Dartmouth, depending on which sleuth you read). Over an ostentatiously French luncheon, the boy boasts, absurdly and pedantically, of a paper he has written on Flaubert ("I mean, to put it crudely," he says, " the thing you could say he lacks is testicularity. Know what I mean?") Franny's dismay at this—and her exhaustion from trying to phase in "the Jesus Prayer" with her heartbeat, as prescribed in a book she carries with her called "The Way of the Pilgrim" —results in her physical collapse in the ladies' room.

More Ambitious
The second story, "Zooey," is far more ambitious (and was also, in 1957, the longest story the New Yorker had ever published). It is Mr. Salinger's conceit that the story is written by Buddy Glass, who calls it "a sort of home movie." Here we find Franny insomniac on a couch in the Glass apartment (which is in the process of being painted), refusing Bessie's broth, and obviously well into a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Zooey is reclining in a hot tub and re-reading an ancient letter from Buddy (which author Buddy quotes in its entirety). Bessie enters, Zooey draws the shower curtain, and there ensues a long and marvelous conversation, the gist of which is that Bessie is very worried about Franny and wants somebody to do something, and that Zooey is suffering from a more generalized angst, which is of course the privilege of youth. We also learn the contents of Bessie's kimono (among other things, a hammer) and of the medicine cabinet, and—not so incidentally—how attractive (and attracted) mother and son are.

Thence to the living room where, after much talk about phonies, St. Francis, and Jesus—and a full description of the Glass decor—Zooey, lying on the floor, tells Franny, still recumbent on the couch, in effect, to get up. Failing to arouse Franny to more than tears, Zooey repairs himself to Seymour and Buddy's old room, where a telephone is necromantically kept in Seymour's name. He reads from an anthology of philosophical sayings Seymour and Buddy had copied out for the edification of their younger brothers and sisters (a generous sampling, including Epictetus, Kafka, Mu-Mon-Kwan, and Ring Lardner, is supplied). Then, all sweaty, but armed with a cigar and a handkerchief on his head, Zooey picks up Seymour's receiver, dials the Glass family number, and asks for Franny.

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