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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The fabulous famille Glass: #11

Way back in high school (way, way back), I read everything J.D. Salinger wrote. He was one of the literary heroes of my youth, one of the writers that every adolescent who wanted to be considered literate, or arty, or cool, read, along with Herman Hesse and Kurt Vonnegut. They were the triumverate, the ones we read and talked about and re-read and idolized. Then there were the lesser writers (lesser in the sense that they weren't mandated reading, more on the recommended list): Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac, John Barth, Joseph Heller, Robert Heinlein... And for some of us, there were our particular extra-cool favorites, like Fitzgerald and Capote (two of mine). There was tremendous flexibility here, some of the smart lit-kids read Pynchon (the really smart lit-kids), some read Philip K. Dick, some read Dunleavy.

But everyone (everyone who wanted to be a writer or an artist, which was an awful lot of us in the late sixties/early seventies) read Salinger. He spoke to us. He spoke for us.

It's been an awful long lot of years since I picked up a book by J.D. Salinger, and I was worried that time had not done right by one of my youthful heroes. Would the angst wear well? Would all that caviling about phonies and authenticity seem dated? Worse, would it feel silly?

I am so happy to report that Franny and Zooey (a short story and a novella, first publisher in the New Yorker in 1955 and 1957) wear as well as a Mary Quant mini, maybe better. The two youngest members of the uber-smart, articulate, precocious Glass family, Franny and her older brother Zooey are the best of literary company. In her story, Franny is on a weekend date with her college boyfriend, and falling apart internally as she suffers through his self-aggrandizing stories of his collegiate success. In his story, which is set soon after Franny's ends, and narrated by their absent older brother Buddy (my teenage hero), Zooey is dealing with his mother and sister, the one distraught over the existential and emotional breakdown of the other.

Much of the writing is in dialog, and Salinger expresses so much character through the way each member of the Glass family speaks, and how they relate to each other. I was very afraid that all the stuff about inauthenticity, and phonies, and the religious discussions would seem juvenile. But it didn't, it felt real and rich and I was so happy to realize that I loved being in the company of the fascinating family Glass -- so happy, in fact, that I went out and bought 9 Stories and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction. So there is more Glass-erie coming our way.

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