Thursday, April 22, 2010

Was Salinger an SOB? (RIP)

Day 72 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Janet, Kim, Pam, Phyllis, Susan, and I just finished reading Franny and Zooey, by J. D. Salinger, and all but one of us met last night to discuss it. At the same time, the SOBs, a self-named men's book group, met to discuss The English Major, by Jim Harrison. No doubt there was griping, moaning, and complaining, mixed with drinking, laughing, distraction, and hilarity at both gatherings.

And maybe some discussion of the actual book.

In our group, I feared we would go off track when one of us said, "Salinger was a despicable person," but another of us said she got so intrigued again by Salinger that she started to do Internet research and then respected his impulse to withdraw from the public eye and let his work be the focus, not his life. (Maybe he knew someone was bound to say he was a despicable person.)

To quote Salinger having Zooey read Marcus Aurelius, as quoted on white beaverboard on the back of his big brothers' bedroom door: "It loved to happen." Sigh...

Here are my interpretive questions about Franny and Zooey:

Why does Zooey pretend to be Buddy on the phone?
(Is it primarily for Franny’s, Bessie’s, or his own sake?)

Why is Buddy the actual narrator of “Zooey”? (Doesn’t “Franny” have an invisible narrator?)

Why does Zooey treat Bessie, his mother, the way he does?
--Why does he tease, mock, insult, etc.?
--And why does Bessie not mind, and sometimes not even notice?
--Why does Bessie converse with him in the bathroom?

Why is it important that both Franny & Zooey are actors?

Why is it important that they both had a sort of religious education from their big brothers?

Why is it important that Seymour Glass has committed suicide?

I have some ideas about and numerous possible answers for these questions, which is why they are interpretive questions. I always like to hear what other readers think, based on the book itself, not stuff about the author's biography. Generally I find there is plenty of exciting truth and paradox in good and great fiction. Curious as I am about authors' lives, I generally leave them to their privacy when interpreting the work. I interpret the work according to the work.

Likewise, I don't go read what the critics say. I read the book. Or the poem, or the short story, treatise, essay, etc. What is this particular writer showing me, teaching me? After that, I love to converse with people who have read the actual book, closely and with care. And then I do sometimes read what experts say, scholars or deep readers--yes, some are critics!--who have spent many hours reading the works themselves, and, yes, about the authors' lives. I just don't read received opinion/interpretation before I do my own work. Nor do I substitute biography for interpretation. I work hard when I write a story or poem. I want somebody to read it, not me! I'm in there, just invisible. Trust me.

Never mind. And I've decided to pronounce Zooey to rhyme with "Phooey!"


Susan said...

You say Zoo-ey, I say Zo-ey.
You say Phooey, I say ... well, I say Phooey too.

Let's call the whole thing off.

Kim said...

Zooey would say "Salinger's personal life is none of your business."

Kathleen said...

Indeed, it isn't. And, other than the Beano episode (and I'm not even sure what Beano is, exactly), neither is mine. That is, of yours.