“Do you think God does not know that he is being worshipped in the images and pictures? If a worshipper should make a mistake, do you not think God will know his intent?” – The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
As a confession, this is my first Salinger book. I got an English degree without having to read a lot of books that I probably should have, or maybe they just expected that I would’ve had to read them in high school, but The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, I never had to deal with these, and it’s probably an indictment of the university that I graduated without having to do anything more than read Hamlet and read a few sonnets.
Anyway, before the people come to wrest my English degree from me, I’ll get into the book, which basically consists of three conversations and a letter. If you’re looking for an action packed adventure, it is not here. This book is a philosophical discussion centered on what they call “The Jesus Prayer” which is “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a miserable sinner.” Which is a Greek Orthodox answer to the question of how are Christian’s supposed to be unceasing in prayer? Supposedly, after repetition, the heartbeat aligns with the words and you are now literally praying with your heart.
The first conversation in the section titled “Franny” is between Franny and her boyfriend Lane. The story is mostly told through Lane’s perspective as he looks at Franny and tries talking to her. The most appropriate way to say it is that he tries talking at her; there is a lot of talking at Franny in the course of the novel. We see that Lane is a self absorbed academic, until Franny starts suffering fainting spells, which gets his attention.
The next conversation is between Zooey and his mother, we find out that Zooey is Franny’s brother and Franny has come home having a nervous breakdown. The conversation between mother and son, as so often happens in my experience, starts off as one thing, but abruptly becomes another. The main river of conversation is about trying to get Zooey to talk to Franny, or how she can be helped. Tributary conversations include criticisms of Zooey,, of his brothers and of Lane.
The final set of conversations are between Franny and Zooey and consists primarily of Zooey talking at Franny and telling her why she doesn’t understand Jesus and therefor can’t get the meaning of the Jesus prayer, this is why she’s having a breakdown.
“’I’ve never tried consciously or otherwise to turn Jesus into St. Francis of Assisi to make him more “lovable” –which is exactly what ninety eight per cent of the Christian world has always insisted on doing. Now that it’s to my credit. I don’t happen to be attracted to the S. Francis of Assisi type. But you are. […] You can say your prayer here and roll Jesus and St Francis and Seymour and Heidi’s grandfather all in one.’”