Most spiritual fiction is slightly fantastical in nature, with the spiritual development theme come mystical visions, mysterious wise men from obscure locations etc.
J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey is not like that. It’s really, in the words of the great Salinger himself:
FRANNY came out in The New Yorker in 1955, and was swiftly followed, in 1957 by ZOOEY. Both stories are early, critical entries in a narrative series I’m doing about a family of settlers in twentieth-century New York, the Glasses. It is a long-term project, patently an ambiguous one, and there is a real-enough danger, I suppose that sooner or later I’ll bog down, perhaps disappear entirely, in my own methods, locutions, and mannerisms. On the whole, though, I’m very hopeful. I love working on these Glass stories, I’ve been waiting for them most of my life, and I think I have fairly decent, monomaniacal plans to finish them with due care and all-available skill.
The Glass family was in fact the subject of much of Salinger’s work.
These two stories feature Franny and Zooey: a sister and brother who are the youngest of a large family. They’ve mostly been raised by their intellectual hippy older brothers, who have instilled all kinds of eastern wisdom and practices in them – but haven’t really prepared them for the real world.
The reason they’ve been raised so queerly – aside from the obvious ‘elderly parent effect’, is that they lost two brothers earlier on, which has left the family with a deep hole in it’s center. They’ve also been raised as radio-stars, because of the endearing and awe inspiring ‘smart kid’ effect.
Comparisons to my own family are obvious. My parents lost a baby-boy when I was five. We were raised overly intellectually and my youngest brother was a minor Dutch tv-star growing up.
Perhaps that is part of why I was so fascinated with these two stories. These kids – both in their twenties – are so intellectual that they think about thinking, talk about talking and generally over-intellectualize everything. For instance, Zooey says to his mother:
‘The word is “washcloth,” not “washrag,” and all I want, God damn it, Bessie, is to be left alone in this bathroom.
Both kids have serious neurotical tendencies, but Franny goes into a meltdown in the midst of the novel. Zooey gets her out. This has been criticized as too simple a solution, but without it – the novel would have been unbearable.
This novel is in fact on the border of being a spiritual novel. What makes it interesting within the genre is that it is critical of spiritual wisdom as a solution to life’s problems, yet at the same time the solution comes from the same place.
As current Christianity might teach us, what we do with spiritual inspiration is more important than the labels we use.
- Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
- Edition: 2010, Paperback
- Publisher: Penguin (there are numerous editions)
- Kindle: unavailable at present
- Language: English
- ISBN-13: 978-0-241-95044-9
I got this book as an anonymous Sinterklaas (Dutch Santaclaus) gift.