Another thing about Franny & Zooey

June 17, 2010

posted and written by caroline picard

And this is just peculiar. On p. 91 of my o-so-familiar all white w/ green spine copy, Salinger makes this curious reference to the frame of the text. In other words, the scene depicts Zooey shaving after having had a bath.

Not five minutes later, Zooey, with his hair combed wet, stood barefoot at the washbowl, wearing a pair of beltless dark-gray sharkskin slacks, a face towel across his bare shoulders. A pre-shaving ritual had already been put into effect. The window blind had ben raised half-way; the bathroom door had been set ajar to let the steam escape and clear the mirrors; a cigarette had been lit, dragged on, and placed within easy reach on the frosted-glass ledge under the medicine cabinet mirror. At the moment, Zooey had just finished squeezing lather cream onto the end of a shaving brush. He put the tube of lather, without re-capping it, somewhere into the enamel background, out of his way.

It’s that last line that I’m interested in. Because suddenly, Salinger describes the edge or boundary of his fictional universe. The Glass family has an edge, a flanking, out-of-focus space, or as that enamel background, off-stage, where one can put things when they are no longer needed. That space does not need specific definition, it does not demand a name and as such stands in stark contrast to the otherwise laborious stage Salinger has set. It’s almost as though Salinger is referencing film–what is reinforced by a later description of Zooey’s shaving technique, during which he avoids looking at his overall face and focuses instead on his own eyes–as though to dissuade any predilection towards vanity.

Really, though, I just got very excited about that “edge.” I re-read Franny & Zooey over vacation after it’d been recommended to me about four times. And of course, I liked it. It’s like an old friend, kind of and I think Salinger is also brilliant, obviously. Having said that, I couldn’t help feeling like he was writing in a good-story way, a way that maybe was too easy to settle in to. A story about people talking and feeling about other people via these intricate landscapes of objects. Which is to say, I wondered about the element of surprise. I didn’t feel like Salinger was going to surprise me in any way. And then. There it was. This peculiar edge. Something he mentions and then ignores–as one might, I suppose, were a sidewalk really to end.

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