Salinger’s Overlooked Masterpiece: Franny and Zooey

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Salinger had a gift for placing his protagonists in certain, very specific places from which the rest of the world is held at arm’s length. In the case of the Glass family, to which Franny and Zooey belong, he went a step further and created an existence from which the rest of the world is barred from admission. No one is seen as quite good enough, interesting enough, self-aware enough, insightful enough or honest enough to be permitted into this singularly insular family. Except, of course, for the reader.

In Franny, the short story that opens Franny and Zooey, Salinger takes us to a vantage point from which we are permitted to observe and eavesdrop on a small table in a small restaurant where on a weekend break from college the protagonist is studying her date’s attempt to coax his frogs’ legs into position so he can have a proper go at them. She, meanwhile, barely touches the sandwich that has been set before her, preferring to chain-smoke while the two of them engage in distracted, fragmented but revealing conversation.

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The precision characteristic of much of Salinger’s writing could be distracting – if not downright annoying – in the hands of a less skilled author. The temptation would be to skim past much of the descriptive detail. But we don’t. Like detectives, we’re glued to every gesture, every phrase, searching for clues, knowing that even one passage carelessly glossed over might mean missing a vital element to the story unfolding before us. We sense almost immediately upon meeting Franny that something is wrong with her – or if “wrong” is too strong, then at least unbalanced. 

This installment of the Glass family saga was first published in The New Yorker in 1955. The novella-length Zooey, set almost entirely in the bathroom(!) and living room of the Glass’ apartment, was published in the same magazine a year later. In Zooey, it is almost as though the precisely detailed descriptive passages become the plot itself as every nuance reveals a lead.

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The two stories were bound together in book form in 1961. Although Franny and Zooey spent 25 weeks atop the New York Times Best Seller List, a number of reviews gave it harsh treatment. These rather peevish lines in 1961 from John Updike in the New York Times capture a general feeling expressed by others: “The author never rests from circling his creations, patting them fondly, slyly applauding. He robs the reader of the initiative upon which love must be given.”

Joan Didion crankily called the stories “spurious,” and slammed the pedantic nature of Salinger’s writing, likening Franny and Zooey to “self-help copy… for Sarah Lawrence girls.” (Ouch.) Alfred Kazin dismissed the writing as “cute.” Maxwell Geismar opined that the writing in Zooey was “appallingly bad,” and George Steiner dismissed the novella as “shapeless self-indulgence.”

Barbra and I had both, independently, read Franny and Zooey many years before we met each other. The book stayed with us (as did It’s a Perfect Day for Bananafish for me, the first installment of Salinger’s Glass family stories). Neither of us had any idea that the book had met with such disfavor when we added it our list of books to read together.

We found the work to be a quick, riveting read (and were amazed to later discover that some critics had groused that it was too long). I found myself comparing it with Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for the very specific sense of place and character it portrays while remaining artistically fresh and thematically timeless. Zooey in particular is a masterpiece, and by that I mean that if writing were displayed in museums in the manner in which paintings are displayed, it would occupy a hallowed place beside a handful of other great post-modern works of fiction.

Searching the internet for positive reviews, we were gratified to find that forty years after the book came out, Janet Malcolm had come to the conclusions similar to those we’d come to. In Justice to J. D. Salinger, (The New York Review of Books, June 2001) she identified Zooey as “arguably Salinger’s masterpiece” and went on to write:

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Our view is that Franny and Zooey belongs in the canon of great American post-modern literature. Going beyond American shores in the genre, this is an excellent book to pair with a reading of Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

The Kindness of Strangers

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The America you miss is still there… if you look for it.

One of the best things about traveling is the great people we meet and the conversations we get into with them. At the end of a long day of driving, we eased our rig curbside in front of a beautifully landscaped cottage-style home on a quiet, tree-shaded street in Sultan, Washington. We were looking for a place to spend the night, and to our delight, the town was having a street fair complete with food booths, amusement rides, an auto show and live music. The challenge was finding a place to park our 50 foot combination of camper and C-Dory where we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way.

The owner of the house we were in front of was outside working in her garden. Jack and I understand that people can be irritated or suspicious to find a camper parked in front of their place. Whenever possible, we like to talk to homeowners so that they know our intent is to park overnight and not to move in. As is often the case, this homeowner, Toni, was happy to have us as temporary neighbors. After talking with her for a while and getting some tips on cool things to do in Sultan, we left her with a jar of our cloudberry jam. Then we got cleaned up and walked downtown to the fair which was reminiscent of the Autumn Leaf Festivals back in Jack’s hometown of Clarion, Pennsylvania and of thousands of similar fairs all across North America.

The next morning as we were preparing to depart Sultan, Toni presented us with a small cupful of deliciousness – beautifully ripe wild strawberries harvested from her garden. Time and again, these small, meaningful encounters with people add flavor and warmth to our travel. Whether it’s great service from a boatyard, restaurant or hardware store, conversations with business owners and chefs, or joys of the day and travel tips shared with the people we happen to have as temporary neighbors in a campground or at a local eatery, we continue to consistently discover that by turning off the endless cycle of negativity on news programs and going out and talking with people, the America we remember is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

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Summer street fair & auto show, Sultan, Washington, 2014.

Anniversary Crème Brûlée with a Surprise!

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Crème brûlée – you expect delectable vanilla bean custard topped with the crunch of caramelized sugar. The fun and tasty element to this version is the surprise at the bottom.

For our anniversary, Jack and I dined at the best restaurant in Point Hope. To begin the meal, the sous chef prepared a simple salad while the head chef created individual plates of Alaska sashimi appetizers: thinly sliced Kodiak scallops along with perfect crescents of Alaska Gulf sweet shrimp presented beautifully with a small mound of wasabi and a side dish of soy sauce. The next course was a pair of tender USDA prime filet mignons pan-seared to perfection and served with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and sweet onionsThe main dish was accompanied by baked Yukon gold potatoes and a dollop of dill sour cream.

The pastry chef thought we should enjoy something creamy at the end of this meal, but she wanted to provide a pleasant surprise. As we cracked the caramelized tops and dipped through the vanilla bean infused custard, our spoons hit a layer of chocolate ganache that made the dessert truly special. Marital bliss and a perfect meal – another day in paradise.

Two-Tone Crème Brûlée for Two

Ingredients

  • chocolate ganache (see below)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • tiny pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar for topping

Directions

  1. Fill bottoms of two 4-ounce ramekins with chocolate ganache. Ganache should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Set ramekins aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the slightly lower than center position.
  3. Whisk milk, heavy whipping cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla paste in a medium pot over medium heat. Whisk until mixture steams and almost boils. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs in a medium bowl. Stir cream mixture into the eggs one tablespoon at a time until the egg mixture is warmed. Once mixture is warmed, increase addition of cream mixture to 1/4 cup at a time. This will prevent eggs from cooking and scrambling.
  5. Gently pour mixture into two 4-ounce ramekins.
  6. Set ramekins in a baking dish. Pour in enough hot water to reach halfway up the ramekins.
  7. Bake uncovered in preheated oven until desserts are softly set, about 45 minutes. The centers will jiggle.
  8. Remove baking dish with ramekins from oven and let desserts come to room temperature while in water bath on counter.
  9. Chill ramekins in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.
  10. Right before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon granulated sugar evenly on each dessert.
  11. Use a kitchen torch to slightly brown and caramelize the granulated sugar. Let cool for ten minutes and serve.

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup quality semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions

  1. Place chocolate chips into a small glass bowl.
  2. Pour cream into a small heavy bottomed pan.
  3. Heat cream until it comes to a boil.
  4. Pour cream over chocolate chips, ensuring all chips are immersed.
  5. Let bowl sit for about 4 minutes.
  6. Whisk mixture just in the center of bowl in order to emulsify the chocolate and the cream. Once emulsion occurs, begin to mix the rest of the melted chips.
  7. Continue whisking until mixture is silky smooth and shiny.

Wild Trout and Salmon Make a Landscape More Beautiful: 10 Reasons We Use Our Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend to Support Trout Unlimited

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Reason #1: Because baby orcas need milk, and this mother needs a healthy diet of wild salmon to produce that milk. (Orca mother and offspring, Gulf of Alaska)

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Reason #2: Because Monica’s pregnant and eating for three. (Brown bear affectionately named Monica by local park rangers, Salmon Creek, Hyder, Alaska)

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Reason #3: Because the ocean is full of nutrients which salmon embody as they return to their natal rivers and streams, and salmon forests thrive on salmon fertilizer courtesy of all the bears, eagles, mink, crows, ravens, otters, foxes and other animals that eat salmon. (Wild currants, Ptarmigan Creek, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska)

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Reason #4: Because this merganser needs to find fresh salmon eggs to keep her brood well fed and growing. (Common mergansers, Salmon Creek, Hyder, Alaska)

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Reason # 5: Because a meal cooked under starlight after a day of fishing with your best friend tastes better than that same meal would anywhere else. (Tumalo State Park, Deschutes River, central Oregon)

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Reason #6: Because what’s good for salmon and trout rivers is also good for so many of the other things in life we love. (Wild turkeys, American River, Sacramento, California)

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Reason #7: Because farmed salmon can’t put a smile like that on a friend’s face. (Barbra Donachy, first king salmon, Resurrection Bay, Seward, Alaska)

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Reason #8: Because we don’t want to live in a world where biodiversity is limited to what can be grown on a farm, raised in a pen, or crammed onto a feedlot. (Sea lions, California North Coast, Bodega Bay, California)

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Reason #9: Because girls who grow up fishing with their dads…

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…become women who fish with their dads. (Above: Maia Donachy drifting an elk hair caddis in the Deschutes Canyon, central Oregon. Below: Maia with a hoochie-caught silver salmon gorged with herring, Cape Resurrection, Alaska)

And reason #10: Because salmon make a landscape more beautiful.

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Top photos: spawning sockeye salmon. Bottom photo: spawning chum salmon.

About Trout Unlimited: For 54 years, TU has been a leader in ensuring that we have cold, clean rivers and streams for generations to come. From Northern California to Alaska’s Tongass Forest, from Bristol Bay to the Appalachian Mountains, TU has been instrumental in getting  dams removed from rivers where they do more harm than good, keeping mining and drilling out of our most fragile ecosystems, and protecting trout and salmon forests. At the same time, TU has been dedicated to educating and involving the next generation of environmental stewards – our children and grandchildren. As illustrated above, TU’s efforts benefit much more than trout and salmon. Click here to find out how you can become a member: Trout Unlimited.

The Language of Fishing: A Father and Daughter Story

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Fishing with Maia at Ja-Ike (Snake Pond) in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. Ja-Ike was full of large bluegills and bass, and in spring when everything was newly green it was perhaps the most beautiful stillwater we have ever fished. Wild wysteria with their white and lilac blooms draped the trees and reflected in the clear water, and wild yellow irises could be found along the shore. (The image above and some that follow were scanned from snapshots taken in the day.)

We recently drove Maia out to the short strip of pavement that serves as our airport here in Point Hope and saw her off, back to her home in Berkeley, California, where she is finishing the last leg of her senior year in college. She’d just spent part of her winter break visiting us in our Arctic home. For two beautiful weeks, we did nothing more elaborate than watch movies, cook together, eat great food, and catch up. On the short drive to the airport, a ground blizzard (high winds whipping up already fallen snow) forced me to creep along at the speed of a brisk walk. It was 10:00 a.m. and still pitch black. Once we got to the airport, the three of us, Maia, Barbra and I, sat in the car, heater blasting, talking, waiting. We wondered if the small plane would be able to make it up from Kotzebue.

Suddenly the runway lights came on. A few minutes later we found the lights of the plane in the dark sky as it made its descent. The lone passenger disembarked and the pilot helped a couple of the locals unload supplies for the Native Store onto a pickup truck. When they were finished, we hugged and said our good-byes and Maia climbed aboard. Fifty-mile-an-hour gusts were rocking the little plane and pushing the windchill deep into the negative degrees, but the skies above were clear. Should be a routine flight, and with a tailwind no less, Bar and I agreed. Still, a father worries.

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Flying a kite on Folley Beach, South Carolina. 


Maia and I started fishing together not long after she learned to walk. Our excursions began on the banks of the Sakuragawa (Cherry River) in Ibaragi Prefecture, Japan. Like Ja-Ike, Sakuragawa had healthy populations of large bluegills and largemouth bass, and like kids the world over, Maia’s earliest fishing experience was shaped around a pole with a line tied to the end, a float, a hook and a worm. 

Back then, the fishing wasn’t really about the fishing. There were flowers and frogs, water snakes and dragonflies, bike rides and walks. I’d put Maia in a little red seat that attached to the handlebars of my three-speed town cruiser and we’d take off, looking for promising water, singing songs and naming birds and stopping at little shops for snacks along the way. Among our favorite finds were the colorful little kawasemi (Eurasian kingfishers) we’d sometimes spy along the river banks and the mysterious evidence of mozu (shrikes) where they’d impaled their tiny victims on garden fences and small tree branches.

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Maia caught her first salmon, a bright Coho fresh from the sea, on a late summer day near the mouth of the Columbia River not far from our home in Astoria, Oregon. Is there any better dinner than a good fish you caught yourself?

But most of all, those early fishing trips were about us – two buddies, hanging out, discovering a world that was new for both of us. It didn’t matter if we caught fish. In fact, sometimes we didn’t even get around to the fishing. There was always lots to see and explore. We never had a bad day.

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Qualifying for nationals in cross country meant a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska and post-race bison burgers. That evening, Maia talked me into going to a movie based on a book she’d recently read and was quite excited about. Although I didn’t become a Harry Potter fan, there is magic in doing things with a person you love, and I have a very fond memory of a pasta dinner at a downtown restaurant followed by watching “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” together.

Later, other things became the focal points of our lives: violins and piano lessons, cross country races and track practice, hikes and a black Labrador Retriever-Australian Shepard mix that was lovable and wild. But fishing remained. It was a constant in our lives, an unbroken thread that gave us a common language even in those times when common language between a father and his teenage daughter sometimes became elusive.

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Blonde hair and a red violin – and springtime trips to a nearby lake to fish for trout and to pick fiddlehead fern heads to sauté in the pan with those trout.

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Cinching up the bag on two limits of razor clams at Clatsop Beach, Oregon – fried clams for dinner!

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On the Exit Glacier Trail near Seward, Alaska, with boyfriend Neal. 

Although Maia’s on her own now, we still get together every summer. We hike and explore and boat and enjoy good meals, and our days often end with a bottle of this or that and stories. And we always work in some fishing.

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At the helm of our sailboat, Bandon, in Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska in June, 2012.

Maia will graduate from college this spring with a degree in music composition and theory. Each time she visits, she brings us an iPod jammed with excellent music – everything from obscure Sinatra to the latest Buck 65 and tons of stuff I’d never find on my own (but end up liking). Maia’s study of music is taking her into a world that, in its depths, goes far beyond my understanding of the subject, and her life near San Francisco couldn’t be much more different than our lives up here in Alaska. And so sometimes we return to the language we know – a language of five-weight fly rods, elk hair caddises and pheasant tail nymphs. We talk of the trout waters we’ve fished and the waters we’d like to fish. And invariably we circle back to the ponds and rivers we knew in Japan and the bluegills we used to catch there, and the bike rides and those those striking little kingfishers with their shimmering turquoise backs.

Read more at: Fishing and Camping along Oregon’s Deschutes River

(Almost) Drowning Barbra: Six Years of Bliss On and Off (and in) the Water

Astoria Brunch: Freshly caught greenling fillets wrapped around local bay shrimp and Dungeness crab in a mixture of lemon, olive oil, butter, garlic and tarragon, topped with a thick slice of applewood-smoked bacon and broiled. The corn, donut peaches and blueberries were purchased that morning at the Sunday Market. Pan-fried potatoes, avocado, toasted French bread, and mimosas garnished with blueberries and slices of perfectly ripe donut peach rounded out the meal. Greenling is a wonderful fish, comparable to sole. There’s a story behind the greenling.

Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of my first date with Barbra. We met on Match.com at a time in our life when we were each comfortable with who we were and knew what we wanted and did not want in a relationship. In our experience, those three prerequisites allow one to be perfectly honest when using Match.com, which is the key to making it work.

After several weeks of voluminous email correspondence and nearly daily phone conversations, all of which had gone swimmingly well, we decided to meet. At the time, I was living in Astoria, Oregon. Barbra was living in Sacramento, California. Spring break was coming up and I was planning a trip to San Francisco to hang out with a couple of buddies from my navy days. I’d be passing through Sacramento. It was perfect.

Our plan was to meet at Barbra’s house and from there to go downtown for lunch. After lunch, Barbra would give me a quick tour of Sacramento. The whole date was supposed to last about two hours.

So much for plans…

Nine hours, two delicious meals, and the long version of a walking tour of the city later, we reluctantly said our goodbyes. We were already making plans for a second date a few days later when I’d be on my way back to Astoria.

To say that our first date went well is an understatement. At every turn of conversation, we uncovered yet another point of compatibility. Barbra reminds me that I was too shy to hold her hand at first. I remind her that I could tell right away we were going to have lots and lots of time together, and there didn’t seem to be a need to rush anything.

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We didn’t go fishing the very first time Barbra visited Astoria. I think it was the second time. She’d never been fishing before, but as an avid outdoorswoman, she was eager to give it a try. So early (early early) one summer morning, I put gear for two in my Toyota Tacoma and we drove in the pre-dawn to Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach. The fishing involved a descent down a steep trail to the beach, and from there a hike out to some rocks exposed at low tide where I could always count on picking up some nice surfperch and greenling.

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. Barbra was thrilled to see all the life in the tide pools on the hike out – purple and orange ocher sea stars, bright green flower-like anemones, small fish, dark purple sea urchins, and even a large, red, many-armed sun star. Getting to the fishing spot involved a scramble over seaweed covered, mussel encrusted rocks, which Barbra handled with no problem.

True to form, the fish were there. Barbra’s first fish ever was a beautifully colored 15” striped surfperch. In the next couple of hours, we caught enough striped surfperch, red tail surfperch and greenling for several meals. Seagulls, oyster catchers and other seabirds along with seals and sea lions added to the atmosphere. Barbra had a blast, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was time to go.

It was then that I realized I’d committed the cardinal error of rock fishing. We’d stayed too long. The cold tide was rushing in, pouring in like a river through the very channels that made fishing in this locale so productive. We were cut off from the beach, and our rock was disappearing fast.

Still, I thought that if we moved quickly, we could wade to the beach before the water rose any higher. With our gear packed up tightly, we made our way waist-high into the rising water. Suddenly we were trapped. The water ahead of us was too deep to go forward. Behind us, too, the water had deepened. I knew that the moment I lifted my foot, I’d be swept off my feet.

I turned to Barbra. “We’re going to lose our footing. When the water knocks you over, let it put you on your back and just float with it. Don’t fight it. We’ll be OK.”

A second later, we were looking up at blue sky, backs down in the cold Pacific, rapidly being swept out toward open sea. I knew from experience fishing river mouths that at some point the current would slacken and that as it did, with any luck there would be a sandbar shallow enough for us to regain our footing.

I reached toward Barbra. “Give me your hand.” Barbra’s eyes were as big as half-dollars. She said nothing. She held out her hand, I grabbed it, and we floated on our backs, heads pointed toward the sea. As we floated, I let my left leg hang down, probing for bottom. If this plan failed, there were a couple of exposed rocks further out we might be washed into. Beyond that, we’d hit the longshore current, too far from land. Hypothermia would set in…

Suddenly my left sneaker made a familiar scrape against sand. The bar sloped upwards rapidly, just as it should have.

“I’m on sand! Put your feet down.” I raised myself, and helped Barbra to her feet.

We’d been carried out about 50 yards. With the tide still flooding there were no guarantees. Holding Barbra’s hand, I began gingerly following the curving lip of the sandbar back toward shore.

When we finally made it to the beach, we turned around and looked out across the swirling water. The rocks we’d been fishing from were completely gone. The current was still running, but not nearly as hard as it had been. We looked at each other and smiled. “Thought we might end up in Japan for a while there,” I said sheepishly. “Geez, I’m sorry about that.”

“I knew you’d get us out of it,” Barbra replied.

Climbing up the steep trail was a slog in our wet clothing. At the truck we took inventory. Other than a thoroughly cold soaking, we were fine. Even Barbra’s camera equipment came out of the ordeal unscathed. We climbed in, I turned on the engine, blasted the heat, and we headed home.

The day was still young. Back at my apartment, I took a hot shower. While Barbra got cleaned up, I walked the three blocks down to the Sunday Market and got us a couple of coffees from The Rusty Mug and blueberries, donut peaches and some salt-and-pepper corn from market vendors. Coming up the stairs to my apartment, I could hear a CD Barbra had chosen from my collection.

It was a Johnny Cash album…

What a woman!