J.D. Salinger is an American author famous first for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye and second for his Glass family stories, a series of short stories about seven unique brothers and sisters. The seven fictional Glass siblings were precocious children (some of them even geniuses) who enjoyed child celebrity. Now, as adults in Salinger's stories, the Glass children struggle to adapt themselves to normal social lives. Salinger explores the Glass family through several other short stories, including "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters," and "Seymour: an Introduction." These stories, like Franny and Zooey, reflect Salinger's interest in Eastern philosophies; a strong spiritual theme runs through all of these works.
"Franny," a short story published in The New Yorker in January of 1955, is the story of the youngest member of the Glass family, Franny, a college student in the midst of a spiritual and personal crisis. "Zooey," three times as long and published also in The New Yorker two years later, is a continuation of the story. Franny comes home seeking help for her troubles and is guided through them by her brother Zooey, who is somewhat troubled by the same concerns as his sister. These two short stories were combined and published as the novel Franny and Zooey in 1961.
The final Glass family story, "Hapworth 16, 1924," appeared in The New Yorker in 1965 and is the last work Salinger ever published. After the publication of the final Glass story, the author became a recluse in his home in New Hampshire. Fans like to speculate that Salinger continued the Glass family saga in private, a hope bolstered by Salinger's comments on the dust jackets of the 1961 Franny and Zooey and the 1963 Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter and Seymour: an Introduction:
"Both ["Franny" and Zooey"] 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 ambitious 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. […] I have a great deal of thoroughly unscheduled material on paper, too, but I expect to be fussing with it, to use a popular trade term, for some time to come." (From the dust jacket of Franny and Zooey.)
"They ["Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter" and "Seymour: an Introduction"] are both very much concerned with Seymour Glass, who is the main character in my still-uncompleted series about the Glass family. It struck me that they had better be collected together, if not deliberately paired off, in something of a hurry, if I mean them to avoid unduly or undesirably close contact with new material in the series. There is only my word for it, granted, but I have several new Glass stories coming along – waxing, dilating – each in its own way, but I suspect the less said about them, in mixed company, the better.
Oddly, the joys and satisfactions of working on the Glass family peculiarly increase and deepen for me with the years. I can't say why, though. Not, at least, outside the casino proper of my fiction." (From the dust jacket of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter and Seymour: an Introduction.)
Deep breath, Shmoopers. We're about to take you through a typical day in the life of an average young person:
Wake up, worry about being late, worry about what to wear, worry about those jeans getting too tight, check email, check Facebook, check Twitter, check the weather, hurry off to work/class, worry about that strange-smelling guy on the bus, worry about the weather forecast, hustle to work/class, worry about the what the boss/teacher might think, check email again, check Facebook again, check Twitter again, realize that it's now raining and the umbrella is at home, scroll through work/school websites, download apps, worry about what to have for lunch, worry about who to eat lunch with, worry about whether lunch is really organic or filled with pesticides…
You get the idea. This stuff goes on all day, every day, without a break. And you know, sometimes it can all seem like just too much.
If you can relate to any or all of this kind of non-stop, pressure-packed, judgment-filled existence, then Franny and Zooey is the story for you. Don't just read it because all the hipster kids in tight jeans like to name-drop J.D. Salinger while choking back their espresso. Read it because Salinger, more than many writers, got what it meant to be a young person trying to make your way through a complex and demanding world. Some days, it's enough to make you want to freak all the way out.
But don't freak out, chums. Read this story instead. It will make you feel better knowing that life is a challenge for all of us on this planet, and that, with the help of good friends and family (oh, and great literature), we might just make it after all.