by J.D. Salinger
Little, Brown and Company, 1955
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger (which is actually two longish short stories published together as a novel) is not what’s usually thought of as “Catholic Fiction.” However, I have a tradition of giving it to my nieces and nephews when they receive Confirmation, along with its companion work The Way of the Pilgrim.
Franny is a senior in college when she runs across the slim volume The Way of the Pilgrim, a spiritual work by an anonymous 19th-century Russian Orthodox peasant searching for the means to carry out St. Paul’s directive to “pray without ceasing.” Franny begins to see, or to think she sees, that everyone around her is, in her words, “all ego.” (Holden Caulfield would say they’re all “phonies.”). In other words, she finds that this life, especially its intellectual pursuits, is “all straw.” However, instead of leading her to higher spiritual insight, this idea leads her to depression. It takes her brother Zooey, in his epymonious story, to help her find the peace through prayer that she seeks.
The Glass children, of whom Franny and Zooey are the youngest, are half-Irish Catholic and half Jewish, and they were all mentored by the eldest brother Seymour in Eastern spiritualities. The religious references in the book are eclectic but ultimately Zooey closes the stories with one of the most christian, and catholic, insights I’ve ever read. Certainly, it lead me to go on to read The Way of the Pilgrim when I myself was a senior in college and then onto the collection of Eastern Christian spiritual writings called The Philokalia studied by The Pilgrim.