Saturday, January 30, 2010


“There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady.  Don’t you know that?  Don’t you know that goddamn secret yet?  And don’t you know—listen to me now—don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is?...Ah, buddy.  Ah, buddy.  It’s Christ Himself.  Christ Himself, buddy.”
     J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

I was nineteen or twenty when I first read Franny and Zooey.  The book had been sitting on my shelf for months—I don’t recall who’d recommended it—and I’d actually tried to read it a few times, but each attempt was a dismal failure:  a page or two in and my mind would just white out.  Then, one night, I came home late, feeling—for reasons that escape me now—unsettled, anxious, maybe a little depressed, and I looked over at the bookcase.  Without thinking, I grabbed F and Z off the shelf and started reading:  it was as if my previous attempts had never happened.  From the first word I was hooked by Salinger’s rich characters, his flowing language, his extraordinary ear for dialogue (I spent quite a few years after that writing failed short stories stuffed with Salingerspeak), his effortless ability as a storyteller.  His compassion most of all.  Those two interlocking tales of the Glass family settled into my cells, into my soul, and left an imprint that remains just as deep, just as true, more than thirty years later.  Franny and Zooey instantly became one of my Favorite Books of All Time—and it remains so to this day.

I went on to devour the amazing Nine Stories (which includes “Teddy”—as perfect a short story as has ever been written), Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour:  An Introduction  (flawed, yes, but absolutely essential) and, of course, the much-acclaimed The Catcher in the Rye (which, oddly, is my least favorite of JDS’s books.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it; but Catcher never touched me in the same way Salinger’s other stories did).  Still, Franny and Zooey is the book I kept returning to; and now, with word of J.D. Salinger’s passing, I think I’ll return to it again.  And I think I’ll return to “Teddy,” as well:  a story that—much like the F and Z excerpt I began with—contains as perfect a definition of life, the universe and everything as I’ve ever come across.  This is Teddy himself talking, a Boddhisatva in a ten year old New Yorker’s body: 

“My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God.  I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.”

I do indeed.

©copyright 2010  J.M. DeMatteis     


  1. I've never actually read Salinger. It's on my to-do list. I hear there's a possibility we'll be seeing more material since his passing.

    Every time I hear a reference to CATCHER IN THE RYE, my thoughts actually turn to its useage in CONSPIRACY THEORY. Probably not the best way to become acquainted with Salinger!


  2. I suspect you'll love FRANNY AND ZOOEY, David. If you get around to reading it, be sure to let me know what you think.

  3. Will do! As always, any and all recommendations are appreciated.


  4. I came the other way. I read CATCHER IN THE RYE as most everyone does (but not at school. At school I pretty much avoided reading books assigned in class. I loved reading but didn't like doing it knowing I'd have to study them. I think I only really read OF MICE AND MEN and maybe, GO ASK ALICE. Everything else I bluffed my way through by listening to everyone else discuss them in class. In the many, many, too many years since leaving school I've read a lot of the books that I avoided and loved most of them. And I like to think I appreciate them more for having sought them out rather than had them forced on me. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

    I thought CATCHER was great and well deserved its reputation. Ikept thinking I should read more Salinger but never really got around to it until about a year ago when I bought second hand copy of FRANNY AND ZOOEY. Like you, had it quickly become one of my favourite books of all time.

    There's a line in a film called "Reuben Reuben" where the character played by Tom Conti objects to someone telling him about a speed reading course and says he'd pay for someone to teach him to read slower.

    FRANNY AND ZOOEY is a book I'd pay to be shown how to read it slower. You want to get through it but you don't want to end.

    Maybe it's time to buy some more J D Salinger.


  5. I remember sitting in some college English classes as we discussed books in detail and -- years later -- looking back, not sure if I'd actually read the book or if I just THOUGHT I did because we talked about it so much!

    I'll join you on that quest to read slower, Brett. Salinger's work certainly deserves that.

    As for reading JDS's other two books...go for NINE STORIES first, then RAISE HIGH. The latter is a bit more difficult, kind of a long and very winding road, but incredibly rewarding.