Originally two stories published in the New Yorker, “Franny” and “Zooey” are combined here into one novel. This is the story of the two youngest of the seven Glass children. They are highly educated, intellectually superior children entering adulthood. All seven Glass children were child stars on a popular quiz show “It’s a Wise Child”. As the children mature, their genius and family prosperity does not combat their woes and questions about the larger world.
In the first part Franny is having dinner with her boyfriend Lane Coutell, in a fancy French restaurant. She is telling him about her recent spiritual crisis. Lane represents all that is elitist and materialistic, all that Franny has come to detest. Lane gorges himself on frog’s legs, as Franny is unable to eat her simple chicken sandwich. This piece of the novel ends with Franny blacking out in the restaurant.
The second part of the novel is Zooey, focusing on the youngest Glass son, actor Zachary. It is a few days later and Franny is home recuperating on the couch of the Glass family apartment in New York. Zooey is indulging in a bath, re-reading a four-year-old letter from brother Buddy. Constantly interrupted by his mother’s urging to see what’s wrong with his sister, Zooey erupts angrily at Bessie Glass. Here is where we learn all the “dirt” on the Glass family. Their parents’ roots in vaudeville, the children’s intelligence and proclivity towards the dramatic arts, and the suicide of eldest brother Seymour is explained through the narrative of Buddy’s letter to Zooey.
Bessie Glass appears confused over the fact that Franny doesn’t want to go back to college. What could be so wrong since she’s smart AND pretty? She won’t even have any chicken soup! You sense Zooey’s frustration towards his mother. The struggles to grow up, live up to expectations, and become self-actualized are themes still prevalent today.
Critics were not kind to Salinger’s work. Franny and Zooey has been dismissed as a self-indulgent work by an intelligent, reclusive artist (not unlike Buddy Glass). I view it as a timeless family drama about disenchanted youth. The Glass family may be pretentious and privileged, but they are human. Franny and Zooey are brother and sister, young adults, trying to find their niches in life and leave behind parental expectations.