Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: Salinger's "Franny and Zooey" & "Celebrity Chekhov" by Ben Greenman

This week I knocked two titles off my "30 Before 30" literary bucket list.  Not bad at all...

title:  Franny and Zooey [purchase here]
author:  J.D. Salinger
genre: short story & novella/fiction
pages: 201
published: 1961
source:  New York Public Library

I certainly have nothing wildly original to contribute to what's already been written about Salinger and his work.  Originally published in the New Yorker and focused on the youngest of the Glass children, Franny focuses on the genesis of Franny's spiritual/existential crisis and the companion novella Zooey tackles Zooey's reaction as Franny brings her breakdown to the family home in Manhattan.  Salinger's narrative voice is so strong and his characters so dynamic and vibrant.  My favorite scene takes place in the Glass family bathroom as Zooey's bath is interrupted by Bessie, his meddlesome mother. Whether meant as a religious parable or love story, it's certainly thought-provoking and rife with memorable moments and enviable dialogue (I *wish* I could be as intentional, witty and, when appropriate, eviscerating as Zooey when I speak!).

Rubric rating:  8.  I wasn't crazy about Catcher in the Rye the first time around (but then again, the first time around I was a 14 year old girl) and Franny and Zooey made me want to give it another shot.

title:  Celebrity Chekhov [purchase here]
author:  Ben Greenman
genre: short stories/adaptations
pages: 205
published:  2010
source:  New York Public Library

The circumstances surrounding my reading of Greenman's Celebrity Chekhov were, fittingly, Chekhovian.  In March, I was seeing someone who is a fairly substantial Chekhov enthusiast.  He had taken me to see Chekhovek!  (which we decided must be Russian for "bad acting"), a staging of a series of Anton Chekhov's short stories, which piqued my interest in Greenman's "celebritization."  (More on my life's Chekhovian plot twist post-rubric-rating.)  Thankfully, Greenman has a far deeper understanding of Chekhov than the men of Chekhovek!...

Greenman's premise is simple:  he believes that Chekhov's understanding of human nature and error is timeless.  In his introduction he says:

"Chekhov drew his characters from all levels of Russian society in his time: peasants, aristocrats, intense young clerks, disappointed wives.  Today, in America, we have a simple way of identifying these flawed specimens of humanity ruled by ego and insecurity.  They are called 'celebrities.'"

My personal favorite story:  Greenman's retelling of "The Death of a Government Clerk" entitled "The Death of a Redheaded Man," where he recasts the government clerk as Conan O'Brien and the general in the Department of Transport as Larry King.  Super insightful and pitch perfect recasting.

Rubric rating: 8.  I am a New Yorker junkie, so I figured I'd love this collection.  Really want to move his collection "What He's Poised To Do" up in my insanely long "to read" list.

And how were my circumstances Chekhovian, you ask?  Chekhov's characters tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves and are usually either pining over someone they can't have (Chekhov is HUGE on unrequited love) or battling distinct dissatisfaction with their lives and circumstances.  In my case, the gentleman I was seeing, whom I had developed pretty strong feelings for, has recently discovered he does not feel the same about me and ended our affair.  After dealing with the sadness, more bitter than sweet, I've been in a pretty intense state of ennui.  I would laugh at how life has imitated art...if I wasn't so weary...maybe I should work?  

30 Before 30 Literary Bucket List: 2 down, 28 to go!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald **
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger **
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy **
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
Pale Fire by Vladmir Nabokov

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Celebrity Chekhov by Ben Greenman
Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe
Blindness by Jose Saramago **
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruiki Murakami
Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart 
Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson **
The Descent of Alette by Alice Notely **
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
The Old Child and Other Stories by Jenny Erpenbeck
Spirit Seizures by Melissa Pritchard

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Possessed by Elif Batuman
Zona by Geoff Dyer
Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford

** rereading

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