Saturday, January 23, 2010

franny and zooey, j. d. salinger

I had to take time to digest this book. I'm not sure why, or if I actually finished digesting it properly, but it felt kind of intense to me, this weird coming-of-age story that made no sense, yet all the sense in the world. I got introduced to the Glass family, and they are truly odd and weird and interesting. Mrs. Glass reminds me of my own mom -- her intrusiveness and her stubbornness and her inability to pay close attention while still paying close attention.

The weirdest, and maybe best, thing about this book, I think, is actually Franny and Zooey. We're introduced to Franny and well, she's strange. She waxes poetic philosophy about the world around her being unoriginal and lacking creativity and beauty. It's the weirdest thing (and it's kind of eerie how Zooey does the same thing, only with more cynicism), and when she breaks down in the bathroom after breaking out in cold sweats--

Abruptly, then, and very quickly, she went into the farthest and most anonymous-looking of the seven or eight enclosures -- which, by luck, didn't require a coin for entrance -- closed the door behind her, and, with some little difficulty, manipulated the bolt to a locked position. Without any apparent regard to the suchness of her environment, she sat down. She brought her knees together very firmly, as if to make herself a smaller, more compact unit. Then she placed her hands, vertically, over her eyes and pressed the heels hard, as though to paralyze the optic nerve and drown all images into a voidlike black. Her extended fingers, though trembling, or because they were trembling, looked oddly graceful and pretty. She held that tense, almost fetal position for a suspensory moment -- then broke down. She cried for fully five minutes.

--that was the most painful part, and even after the initial reading, it still hurts, it's still this breathing thing because that little intense bit is still physically painful and yet, so lovely, because I can imagine this girl, tucked away in a restaurant bathroom, pressing herself together and crying until she couldn't, or until she's forced to pull herself together. (Mostly it just reminds myself of me, and when I was in similar positions one too many times.)

It kind of picks up after that, without so much depressing excerpts (although, it dipped off some more), and came back with one of the coolest and most striking scenes I've read in a book (because I love the visceral feel to it, the grit, the depression, the attention to details, the only backstory you'll ever really need to get inside his head): Zooey emerged in his bathtub, fingers pimpled after spending so long in the water, reading his letter from Buddy while a cigarette sits in between his fingers. That image will probably stick with me for a while yet.

(I didn't have any particular feelings about the letter, to be honest, except for this part:

I was standing at the meat counter, waiting for some rib lamb chops to be cut. A young mother and her little girl were waiting around, too. The little girl was about four, and, to pass the time, she leaned her back against the glass showcase and stared up at my unshaven face. I told her she was about the prettiest little girl I'd seen all day. Which made sense to her; she nodded. I said I'd bet she had a lot of boy friends. I got the same nod again. I asked her how many boy friends she had. She held up two fingers. "Two!" I said. "That's a lot of boy friends. What are their names, sweetheart?" Said she, in a piercing voice, "Bobby and Dorothy." I grabbed my lamb chops and ran.

In his head, Buddy probably heard Zooey and Franny instead.)

There's so many little things that someone can write a paper on (Like a trufax literary paper explaining the juxtaposition of coming one with yourself and coming one with God, or what's the importance of all the little details, like describing what's in each rooms or what's with all the cigarette smoking anyways?, or even the similarities between the aforementioned scene with Buddy and the little girl and Zooey watching the other little girl underneath his window, playing with her dog) and I don't want to get into that -- or maybe I kind of do -- because there are so many things I have yet to really understand, like hmm, what was Salinger even trying to say. (I think I got it, but maybe I don't, and with books, as long as you take something from it, there really is no point to be taken.)

But this, this was beautiful--

Franny now lay sleeping on her side, facing into the back of the couch and the wall, her chin just grazing one of the several toss pillows all around her. Her mouth was closed, but only just. Her right hand, however, on the coverlet, was not merely closed but shut tight; the fingers were clenched, the thumb tucked in -- it was as though, at twenty, she had checked back into the mute, fisty defenses of the nursery. And here at the couch, it should be mentioned, the sun, for all its ungraciousness to the rest of the room, was behaving beautifully. It shone full on Franny's hair, which was jet-black and very prettily cut, and had been washed three times in as many days. Sunshine, in fact, bathed the entire afghan, and the play of warm, brilliant light in the pale-blue wool was in itself well worth beholding.

--and the phone call between them at the end made me realize what it truly means to be at peace with oneself and with the people you've loved and lost. (To say that this family, particularly Franny and Zooey, weren't taking the death of their brother Seymour pretty hard would be a lie, and I think that's the root of her breakdown and the bitterness in his heart.) So when Franny smiled at the end -- For some minutes, before she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, she just lay quiet, smiling at the ceiling. -- it made me feel good that she felt good.

I don't know if I particularly love this book -- I love so many parts of it, though -- but I definitely don't hate it. I'd like to read it again, to get into their heads one more time and better understand the mechanics of their thinking. And then maybe read about the Glass family some more.

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