The “Zooey” section of Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger begins thus:
The facts at hand presumable speak for themselves, but a trifle more vulgarly, I suspect, than facts even usually do. As a counterbalance, then, we begin with that everfresh and exciting odium: the author’s formal introduction. the one I have in mind not only is wordy and earnest beyond my wildest dreams but is, to boot, rather excruciatingly personal. If, with the right kind of luck, it comes off, it should be comparable in effect to a compulsory guided tour through the engine room,with myself, as guide, leading the way in an old one-piece Jantzen bathing suit (Salinger 47).
This narrator intrusion, my analysis of it, the purpose it seems to serve, and how thinking about it served my own writing are what I’m going to discuss here. Among all my observations about these two Glass stories looking at this one small section of “Zooey” will best serve my own writing now. In writing this, I believe I will do some much needed work around some struggles I am having with my own intrusive narrator. In fact, once I had the idea for this paper, I had to go back and make some changes to my own work that I didn’t want to lose in waiting.
This intrusive narrator, Buddy (Franny and Zooey’s older, writer brother), is playful, clever, and self-conscious. Wordy, indeed. In stating how what will follow will be wordy beyond his “wildest dreams”, he is wordy about being wordy. A guide in a one-piece bathing suit? That had me laughing out loud. He further tell us that it’s not a mystical story, but a love story, and that it’s not really a story but a “sort of prose home movie” (47) After this introduction, Buddy addresses the reader directly only one more time (in a foot note), and he appears in the story indirectly by the inclusion of a letter he wrote to Zooey and a scene in which Zooey pretends to be Buddy over the phone to Franny in an attempt to lift her out of her moment of crisis.
That is what this story seems to be about, Franny’s moment of crisis, which has much to do with the spiritual text she is carrying around with her. I must have read this narrator intrusion when I first read these stories as a teenager, but it went right over my head. I finished the book wanting to pass out copies to everyone I know as if the book itself were my own spiritual tome, like Franny’s pilgrim book. But, I’m listening to Buddy now, and as I think he meant it do be, I don’t entirely trust his point of view. I see that he is the one who chooses what, as the saying goes, lands on the cutting room floor in his prose home movie. This is made clear by Buddy’s intrusion, his mention that Franny, Zooey, and his mother, “the three featured players themselves” (47) object to including certain details. I see now how Buddy urges us to focus on the love stories “pure and complicated” that are happening between members of the Glass family.
I’m not sure I think Buddy’s intrusion is fully realized. I can’t say it doesn’t work, but it doesn’t come full circle. Why does our tour guide leave us after that? I guess, he wanted to thrust us into scenes, which he does admirably. So much of these stories hinge on dialogue and such specificity in description. Some of the scenes leave me envious (the restaurant scene with Lane in “Franny”, the bathroom scene with mom In “Zooey”), actually. I see why, though, as a teen, Buddy’s little intrusion impacted me only as clever and didn’t influence my interpretation of the story or stand out as crucial to the narrative. Yet, now I’m wondering if he intended it to be and how the story might have been different had our Buddy returned to bid his readers farewell in the end. I don’t know, but it has me thinking about my own intrusive narrator, a persona I am set on but not entirely satisfied with in her (Eve’s) current state of being.
When I first created Eve, I thought that it would be effective to sustain suspense about whether she would live or die (after being hit by a car) in the end, but later realized that putting energy in that direction really wasn’t consistent with what I wanted the story to be about. It was just gimmicky and done in large part to save a scene in the place I thought it should go. But, you see, I didn’t fully listen to this epiphany. I still for some reason felt compelled to make it foggy for the reader whether she still lived as she told the story, even had this line, about how maybe she was dead.
How can I explain how my thinking about the narrator “Zooey” helped me to come to something that was really just waiting in the back of my mind to be articulated, fully realized? I sat down to write this paper and instead opened the document that contains my book and changed the second chapter so that not only was it clear that Eve was alive, but I put her in a particular place, allowed her to articulate her purpose, and it feels good. I’m happier with the story now. I want an honest, reliable narrator for this first person story of a life, reflection on a life. It makes sense for the reader to know that she lives and even where she is now telling her story from and why.