Monday 30 March 2015

The faces you see as you read Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger are yours to choose. As is the cat called Bloomberg. I would like Michelle Williams as Franny and someone between Billy Crudup and Jake Gyllenhall as Zooey. Neither of our cats would do as Bloomberg.

As I read I see another Michele, who likes J.D. Salinger and looks like an Audrey Hepburn for whom life was and is a great deal more perilous than anyone would want. She talks like Franny, smokes like Franny, sleeps and doesn't eat like Franny; and she has a Mercy tattoo on her wrist. I can imagine her in the Underground – she lives in London – looking at her boyfriend and momentarily seeing him, as Franny sees her boyfriend, as an ad she's staring at on the other side of the carriage.

Franny gets about forty pages, Zooey more like a hundred and forty, though many of these involve the existential crisis of Franny, who, like Phoebe for Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, guarantees Zooey even as he tries to sort her out. Smoking guarantees everyone in the Glass family, even the two who are dead. It helps to read The Cloud of Unknowing in a cloud of smoke.

Franny's boyfriend cuts into frogs legs while Franny ponders Mercy and how it doesn't have to mean Mercy, and exhales. Saw the Anton Corbijn film yesterday about Ian Curtis of Joy Division. In an early scene in his teenage bedroom he tells a visitor who has refused a cigarette that everyone who comes into this room has to smoke.

Enter Zooey, smoking. Enter Buddy. Enter Bessie, the mother. Several Glass family members who mutter on in grouchy clever family ways. This is the sound of a family. This is the Salinger Fascination. This muttering on and the small advances, the latest difficult rescue of the imminently dead by the catcher in the rye.

Much of the Zooey volume takes place in the bath where he is reading a letter from his older brother Buddy, pages of it, as well as fielding questions from his mother Bessie, and smoking. Mrs Glass is also smoking, sometimes several at once. Franny is on the sofa refusing chicken soup and crying for Seymour who killed himself, if she isn't asleep. The last part of Zooey's tale takes place on the phone, talking into a void that Franny fully occupies.

All these articulate, troubled, sometimes dead Glass children, seven of them, these everyday rituals, like bathing or shaving or talking or finally accepting chicken soup, into which you can pile so much and so much. You will always disagree, you hope for mercy, you field anxiety, re-lather where you must shave again.

Mercy is about right. Though, now that I think about it, before I knew Michele I didn't know Mercy either. If I do now. Without the tattoo.

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