I picked up this book or rather Vinod picked it up for me at the second market at Abids. Being a great fan of Catcher in the Rye I started reading this book a year or two ago and never made any progress. Even if I did it made no sense to me. Bot somehow in my new found zeal to rip through books I picked it up again and raced through it.
This time I got a mild grip on the story to get through. Salinger almost seems to have written this experimentally. Franny and Zooey belong to a dysfunctional family (they are sister and brother in that order) and are the youngest. It is a family where the siblings have an 18 year gap between the oldest (Seymour, I think) and the youngest, Franny. It starts with Franny meeting Lane her boyfriend from an Ivy League school, and in the dinner that follows, shreds his theories on literature and poetry to pieces and shows little consideration to a paper that he wrote which he is rather proud of. Now Lane is a typical youngster, proud of his Ivy Leaguestuff and of doing all the right things - speaking rebelliously, pseudo intellectually, anti establishment stuff, smoking, seen with the right girl friend, the right places etc and Salinger paints that part well of how his carefully planned portrait of the evening falls to pieces with Franny's unpredictable behavior. Franny hates all this'campusy' stuff where students are posing as intellectuals. Anyway Franny faints at the end of the conversation and is hutled back home.
Home is where young genius Zooey resides - in a bath tub, reading a letter written to him by his brother Buddy who is a teacher in some godforsaken college. Now there is a wide chasm between the brothers owing to the gap in age and also due to emotional baggage they carry owing to the deaths of two brothers. Seymour the first born who commits suicide and another brother, a twin, who dies of some weird cause I fail to remember. Anyway Zooey and brothers and sister have been part of a tv show that showcases talent, Zooey being the stat of the show and carries that burden. Franny is lying down in depression, their Mom is worried about everybody. Zooey blames the older brothers for creating this mess for them.
Franny is profoundly impressed with the book 'The Way of the Pilgrim' and it is the pilgrim's thoughts on incessant prayer that her sense of perfection lies. And thereby her rejection of all that is 'campusy' and show offy of the education system where everyone wants to impress, and be somebody and no one wants to be a nobody. Zooey understands this and explains to her the true meaning of incessant prayer which finally does make sense to Franny as well and she makes peace with the world around her.
Salinger is as anti show offy (phoney as Caulfied would have put it) stuff as ever and makes a case for living a life on one's own rhythm. His deep insights into religion, into Indian philosophy, into pretty much anything taht he dwells on including the psyche of two teenagers is astounding. That is one hallmark of the great writers, the way they write what they have researched so thoroughly, almost as if they have experienced it. It is not an easy book to read and is rather abstract. It allows one to skim through most stuff which you can make out is irrelevant and if you stick to the dialogue you generally get the hang of it. But one cannot say that it is just another book because it has a style that is completely it's own and is like no other I have read so far. However it did not leave me with a huge impression, or even rooting for Franny or Zooey who seem to be stuck in some teenaged angst.