Author | Title | Rating | Latest
A book review by Steven Wu
September 03, 2004
|Rating: 1 (of 10)|
Well, it turns out I don't. And I feel bad because I always feel bad when a friend in good faith recommends a book and I end up disliking it. If my friend is reading this (and she knows who she is) please don't stop recommending books! I do like many of them!
But I absolutely hated Franny and Zooey. True, I really disliked The Catcher in the Rye as well, but Franny and Zooey is even worse. It is, with very few competitors, one of the most pretentious, self-indulgent novels I have ever read. In fact, it's not even really a novel. For one thing, the book is so dialogue-heavy that it reads like a play--an extremely talky play, with only two or three sets. Where there is not dialogue, Salinger fills the empty space with a lot of descriptions of meaningless action--Zooey will move a glass from here to there, Franny will readjust the forks before her, etc. More importantly, the book is only minimally concerned with such niceties as plot and character: it is really an extended, rambling philosophical discussion about religion (Western and, importantly, Eastern) and the Meaning of Life.
To the extent that there is a novel in here, Franny and Zooey concerns two siblings, Franny and Zooey, who each star in one of the two stories collected in this book. In the first story, "Franny," Franny Glass has dinner with her college boyfriend but then suffers a nervous breakdown in the middle of explaining exactly what the hell is wrong with her. In the second story, "Zooey," Franny's brother, Zooey, has a long argument with their mother, then a long discussion with Franny, who is at home recuperating.
Franny and Zooey are basically insufferable. They are over-privileged and highly educated, which is normally not a problem--but the annoying part is that they are intellectual name-droppers and whiners, youngsters who are in love with their own ideas and voices, with abstractions and high-mindedness and what they perceive as Deep Thoughts. They are unbelievably preoccupied with themselves. And when they do hit on something they think is True, they declaim it in the over-confident voice of inexperienced youth, viz: "There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. Don't you know that? Don't you know that goddam secret yet? And don't you knowólisten to me, nowódon't you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy." (I just started laughing when I read that line. It was just too much.)
I don't know what it is about this novel that makes it such a milestone in American literature. Maybe I'm already an old man at heart, and I'm already impatient with (and slightly contemptuous of) the frenetic idealism of youth. I know that there are a lot of people for whom the dialogue in this book really resonated (including my friend). But it just didn't do anything for me.
Steven Wu's Book Reviews