I am one of those appalling bibliophiles who just don’t comprehend the hustle and bustle around “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger. It was banned shortly after its publication and it even got a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma fired for assigning it in class, but even though I proclaimed my fascination with outlawed novels, I find no rationality and logic behind Holden Caufield’s actions and decisions. Withholding that this may precisely be the beauty and gist of a story about teen angst, it is also my reason for disliking.
Nevertheless, when I glimpsed over the minimalistic cover of “Franny and Zooey” by J. D. Salinger wedged amongst outstanding classics as “War and Peace” and “Ulysses”, I found it irresistible. Such a miniscule book must harbour a lot of , I thought, so as to be shelved among the paramount works of literature (I am yet to read). My inkling didn’t lead me away.
Divided in two parts “Franny and Zooey” depicts another adventure of the Glass family, who are a common subject of Salinger’s short stories. It is told by Buddy, the eldest living sibling. He relates his little sister’s mental breakdown, what triggered it and how she recovered from it. The novella revolves around religion and its implications in art and daily life. But as the narrator points out in the introduction: “I say that my current offering isn’t a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story, at all. I say it’s a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated.”
In the very first pages of the book we are introduced to a young attractive girl who is supposed to have a whale of time with her boyfriend during the weekend. But there is something peculiar about Franny’s conduct, atypical for the mirth and joy commonly associated with the 1950s. She doesn’t keep her end of the conversation. She berates the pretentiousness and duplicity of her sanctimonious boyfriend and lines up everyone under a common denominator: “It’s just that for four solid years I’ve kept seeing Wally Campbells wherever I go. I know when they’re going to be charming. I know when they’re going to start telling you some really nasty gossip…”
Franny is disillusioned about the world we all live in, pursuing unattainable dreams and attempting to be remarkable in every aspect just like everyone else. “I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting.” So in her not-so-dissembled disappointment and abhorrence of human nature and propensities, she seeks reprieve in religion. She forsakes her illustrious career in acting and neglects any zeal for beauty and success. She spends her days lying on her parents’ coach until her brother Zooey reconciles her expectations and aspirations with the reality of the world.
In a lengthy, but gripping, dialogue, Franny discovers the real source of her exasperation with the world. She is incensed by the disregard of people for all the onerous efforts that go into the creation and production of any piece of art. She despises people for the lack of appreciation and their hasty to judge and criticize. But as Zooey confides in her that “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s”, she finds it in herself to forgive laymen for their privation of sophistication.
And so the story of a mental breakdown morphs into a multifarious love story whose moral story is that we all need to accept and tolerate each other in all our hideousness and absurdity. It is absolutely necessary if one desires to prosper in our ruthless society to love one’s public and to persevere for one’s own self. Thus, the question of whether we should write/draw/play for ourselves or for the others is rendered irrelevant. We should love the human in each other despite the mutations and protrusions sticking out on the surface for we all crave for the same: to be admired and appreciated.
J. D. Salinger, himself, is an epitome of an artists who shoots for perfection on his own terms. His novella “Franny and Zooey” comes over as written gracefully in a flourish of inspiration by the fireplace. His rendering lacks any pretentiousness and ostentation but enchants with its simplicity and approachability per se.