Question Of The Week: "Franny And Zooey"

by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

I was born into a Mormon family, and raised by a fairly neurotic mother, who, bless her heart, did everything in her power to keep me involved and active in the church. In addition to the normal methods such as compulsory church attendance up to and throughout my high school years, along with requiring full compliance to all the rules that the church dictated, she was also very skilled at using guilt and shame to control not only myself, but my brothers and sister as well when it came to religion.

I came to fully believe that in every aspect in my life that if there was ever any conflict between what I felt or what I believed, and what the church taught, that I was wrong and that the church was right. This would not have been a problem except for the fact that from early on in my teens, I had tremendous doubts about what the church was, and felt no comfort nor gained any spiritual sustenance from attendance. I therefore, of course, was convinced that there was something wrong with me, and that i wasn't trying hard enough, praying long enough, etc. This consumed much of my thinking throughout my teens, and the inward battle became exhausting. I became quite despondent and hopeless, until I read a book. I had read his more famous book, Catcher in the Rye several years before and enjoyed it, but it was J.D. Salinger's book Franny and Zooey that set me free.

I can still remember exactly how I felt almost thirty years ago while Zooey spoke to Franny over the telephone at the end of the book, and how you could feel Franny silently negotiating her own way out of her religious morass that she was in. Every word that Zooey spoke went straight into my heart, and by the time Franny had hung up the phone and fell asleep, I was weeping like a baby. I had never felt so free. Ironically, I never quite looking for a deep spiritual life, and to some degree have found one, but without that book, I'm quite sure I wouldn't be as far along as I am now. I'm not sure if he just ran out of words, or what happened to him, but the fact that Salinger quit publishing so long ago, along with his death, has always been deeply saddening to me.