'Voice' on Literature

Reviews of the last 50 years

When Franny comes to the phone, Zooey pretends he is Buddy. Franny eventually sees through the hoax, but she feels something important is about to happen. Zooey then tells her, in effect, that she isn't the only one who has problems and to get with it—which proves to be the most instantly successful therapy on record. All her tension suddenly lifted, Franny goes to sleep.

It is a measure of the power of these stories that we do not go to sleep. Indeed, one is left startlingly awake; even the lists of things in pockets and medicine cabinets have not lulled. Salinger's remarkable ear for dialogue and his even more remarkable ability to transmit a sense of presence have often been noted: the stories seem, urgently, to be happening right now, and almost inside of us. Critics have also pointed out (and none more gracefully than John Updike) some of the deficiencies of "Franny and Zooey" —the self-effacing and embarassing coyness, the name-dropping, the adoration of certain characters and abhorrence of others, even the crust it supposedly took to publish such a slender volume. One, Harvey Swados, has suggested that Salinger's fame derives from his willful physical isolation; Swados calls him "the Greta Garbo of American letters." But pro or con, few have found the Glass saga less than fascinating.

One of the fascinations of "Franny and Zooey" —and I submit that it is also at the core of the book's artistic failure—is the inseparableness of the author from his work, the deliberate confusion of who is who, and who is real. It is not only Salinger's conceit that Buddy Glass directed the "home movie," "Zooey," but that Salinger, himself, is a myth. Sitting in his concrete bunker in Cornish, New Hampshire, Salinger writes on the jacket of "Franny and Zooey" that he lives in Westport with his dog—a joke that insiders like the Glasses can snicker over. Thus the jacket copy becomes part of the saga—and the worth of the saga becomes partly determined by one's apparaisal of the joke.

Clues Withheld
There is nothing in Salinger that isn't circular. In "Seymour: An Introduction," Buddy Glass, its "author,' disowns not only "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (which was officially by "J. D. Salinger") "as having been written on an old defective typewriter," but "Teddy" as well—a story once presumed outside the Glass canon. In some future story Buddy Glass may well disown the jacket copy of "Franny and Zooey" —or J. D. Salinger may well disown Buddy Glass and claim the whole thing is really by Holden Caufield or, perhaps, D. T. Suzuki. In a crucial sense, then, the Salinger-Glass epic is a detective story in which the necessary clues are deliberately withheld. They are not withheld, one feels, out of aesthetic necessity, but out of iresponsibility. It is as if the author wished to anticipate every judgment (as the Glasses, acknowledging all their possible faults, do); as last resort he can always say: "Salinger? Salinger who?" "There is a real-enough danger," Salinger writes on the jacket of "Franny and Zooey," "I suppose, that sooner or later I'll bog down, perhaps disappear entirely . . . ."

It is perhaps inevitable, then, that when we enter the world of the Glasses, we enter a fantastical world of self-absorption—at once incestuous and sweetly narcissistic, sentimental, cloying, above all, childish. It is the world of the self-indulgent who think they are exceptionally bright when they are only bright, and that their embarassment at being so only proves it—a world in which mannerism is mistaken for charm and problems of morale are rarified into problems of morality.

Everything with Indirection
It is a world, also, where nobody deals with anyone directly: when Franny is upset at her boy friend, she excuses herself from the table; Zooey's therapeutic message of love comes to Franny through a telphone [sic] (and while he is not only pretending to eb Buddy, but also calling her "Buddy,"); the painters, trampling through the apartment, remain as wraithlike as Seymour, the suicide and family saint.

Franny's problem is how to grow up. She is a nice girl, and one wishes her success. But as her problem is similar, in an artistic sense at least, to her creator's, I do not feel, like Dr. Salinger, very hopeful. [return to top]

May 10, 1962

Seduction of the Minotaur
A novel by Anais Nin
Alan Swallow, paperback, $1.65

By Adam Margoshes

This is the age in which the "minorities" who constitute the overwhelming majority of the earth's population are destined to come into their own, and, as usual, the first breakthrough is in the arts. The most numerous and most important "minority," of course, is that of women. For a long time there have been good woman writers, the Brontes and Jane Austen and George Eliot, but today women are writing AS WOMEN for the first time, in an idiom that expresses—and discovers—the feminine sensibility from within; something brand new, startling, and altogether wonderful to see. The two I immediately think of in this genre are Marguerite Duras and Anais Nin. In her latest book Miss Nin intensifies and purifies her style into an instrument of almost supernatural sensitivity; she has made herself into an antenna that receives messages on the most important but most inaudible wave lengths, until now undetected by the human ear, though continuously sent out by the human heart.

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