My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Oddly enough these caustic and compassionate tales remind me of Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolfo. Like our heroine, the two protagonists, Franny and Zooey, are wayward souls, trying to navigate through a morally ambivalent and culturally vacuous society. All three are devotedly pious though the tragedies they face have skewed their faith. Like Radcliffe, Salinger concocts a strange amalgamation of religious doctrine, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, with the popular culture of his time. The more I think about it, the more the parallels become apparent. A side by side reading would be interesting.
Craftwise, Salinger is phenomenal with details and dialogue. His writing is crisp, cutting, and almost crass to the point of being paradoxically sophisticated and elegant. He is essentially a minimalist like Hemingway and proves that less is more.
Don’t let your preconceived notions about Salinger and his Catcher in the Rye keep you from the prescient works of his Franny and Zooey or Nine Stories. Don’t let your teenage self of decades past dictate your predilections of today. If you don’t read Salinger, you’re missing out and that would be a shame.
After reading these tales, its worth revisiting Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tannenbaums, which is loosely based on Salinger’s characters but doesn’t nearly come close to the writer’s gut punch narrative.