What Franny Should Have Eaten in the Lunchroom {Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger}

This was a hard one for me to write. Not because I don’t know what to say, rather I have too much to say. As one might gather from the title of this blog, I really like Salinger. Well, let’s go ahead and just say it, he is my favorite writer. He is the reason I started seriously writing.  He is also the reason that sometimes I just cannot write.

If I’m  writing a story,dialogue is always a traffic jam for me because I break one of the most important rules of writing-don’t edit while you write. I can follow this rule most times, but when it comes to dialog I jam up. Because in the back of my mind is floating any conversation that appears in any of Salinger’s fiction and I know that the crap I typed just doesn’t cut it.

Because of Salinger’s pedestal status I am always a bit sweaty palmed when I write anything about his fiction. Due to the complexity of this story I am only going to focus on the early lunch scene with Franny. I mean stuff gets weird in this one, folks. The “Jesus Prayer” alone would take up a whole post. Maybe a last meal post.  Hmmm. Anyway,  Here we go. Gulp.

In  Franny and Zooey we have amazing dialog between the characters throughout a somewhat fragmented story of an emotionally- hardened, childhood- genius brother and his younger sister who, having traveled back to her home after a momentous non-lunch, is suffering an existential breakdown. Now there’s a mouthful. And all of this is of course layered on top of Salinger’s famous The Glass Family.

And Franny never even eats lunch. But I’m about to help a sister out.

The story begins with Franny heading to lunch with her college boyfriend, Lane, in a nameless college town. As Franny sits across the table from said boyfriend she becomes more and more upset by his conversation that focuses on college, literature, publishing papers, and superficial drivel. Her disenchantment with convention, and  her current reality, emerges over this table. Lane, egotist extraordinaire, becomes frustrated with Zooey’s sarcasm and generalizations over the course of the lunch.

After she reaches her boiling point, and with Lane still concerned about getting to the football game on time, Franny starts to feel sick and high tails it to the bathroom- where she proceeds to have a nervous breakdown. Well, she is really just crying hysterically, but I am pretty sure this is where her breakdown starts. It’s where it starts for me anyway.

When she returns to the table, Lane begins to question the small book she’s been toting around. She casually tells him about The Way of The Pilgrim, which is, in its absolutely most shortened form, a story of a Russian wanderer who learns to internalize prayer by repetition, therefore “praying without ceasing.”

We can all guess what Lane thinks about this.

The scene wraps up with Franny fainting, the football game plans being (reluctantly) cancelled by Lane, and when he goes to hail a cab, we see Franny alone, chanting the infamous Jesus Prayer.

Now, I realize that Franny has got some serious existential problems. Hey, I’ve been there. At least once a week. But you know what food always make me feel like its ok to not know The Answer? To know that sometimes its ok to just be?

A cheeseburger.

Not just any cheeseburger. Not a fancy cheeseburger (though those are good, too. Unless they have a stupid brioche bun. Yuck.) But a good old-fashioned diner cheeseburger.

With gravy fries.

And, if I really don’t know my ass from my elbow that week, hell, throw some cheese on ‘em. Make ‘em disco. (Poutine, for the fancy readers)

And while we’re at it, let’s have an extra thick vanilla milkshake. The kind where there are still the big hunks of vanilla ice cream in them. An because we know that no good existential crisis should go without a stiff drink, we’ll throw a little booze in there. If your a purest, like me, take that shot on the side.

I feel better already. I can feel the food coma lulling me into a complacent state of contentment.

If only for a few hours.

But hey, sometimes that’s all we need to keep us from really going off the wall.

So if I was in that lunchroom with Franny and Lane, I would ask the boyfriend to take his food to another table. I would assure her that Lane is every bit the pillowcase he seems. And then I would order her this meal.

 Franny’s Existential Crisis Lunch

A Moveable Feast Menu

511l-DngUMLHemingway’s ode to living and writing in Paris in the 1920’s, A Moveable Feast seems like a natural candidate for a discussion of food in literature. Published posthumously, the Paris memoir was comprised of transcribed writings that came from a several trunks that Hemingway had recovered from the basement of the Ritz hotel in Paris in 1956. The papers were stored in 1928 and were mostly notebooks that he had written during his time in Paris. Before his death, Hemingway edited the transcribed papers to a final draft. The final editing was done by Hemingway literary executor, and his fourth wife, Mary. Scribner’s published the memoir in 1964.

A Moveable Feast is a must-read for anyone who loves the idea of Paris in the 1920’s, for fans of Hemingway, and for those interested in this particular writers’ circle of expatriates, whose major players include, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, to name a few.

In the titular line of the novel Hemingway writes, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” And indeed the Paris in this memoir has become a moveable feast for Hemingway and Paris fans alike.

There is no way to choose one meal that would go with this work, since there is amazing food throughout the book. Hemingway is always walking to the pub or café, having a nibble, a drink, and writing. When describing  his time spent there with his family he writes: “We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Indeed the simplicity of this statement greatly summarizes the food shown and shared in the memoir. The point always seems to be not the price or fanciness surrounding any of the food here, but rather the nourishment and pleasure the food and drink give to the consumer:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gelhorn Make a Toast

Of course wine played a huge role in A Moveable Feast. “Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary…”

And while food played a huge role, so did lack of it, as Hemingway notes: “Hunger is good discipline.”

And when there was no money to café hop:

“Let’s walk down the rue de Seine and look in all the galleries and in the windows of the shops.’

‘Sure. We can walk anywhere and we can stop at some new café where we don’t know anyone and nobody knows us and have a drink.’

‘We can have two drinks.’

‘Then we can eat somewhere.’

‘No. Don’t forget we have to pay the library.’

‘We’ll come home and eat here and we’ll have a lovely meal and drink Beaune from the co-operative you can see right out of the window there with the price of the Beaune on the window. And afterwards we’ll read and then go to bed and make love.’

‘And we’ll never love anyone else but each other.’

‘No. Never.”

Sigh. How reading old writing can pull the covering from truth and reveals its unintended lie.

And while there is plenty of food in the pages of A Moveable Feast, I can’t help but offer up a menu of my own. A menu that I would love to eat while I created my own moveable feast.

The Moveable Feast Menu

First course: Champagne. Oysters, Garbure (Popular French Peasant Ham and Vegetable stew)

Main course: Red Burgundy, Sauvignon blanc, Chablis. Fish Beurre Blanc, Steak Marchand de Vin (Steak with shallot red wine sauce). Sautéed asparagus (white variety in Spring)

Cheese course: Since there are more than 400 kinds of cheese in France, I’m going to let you use your imagination here…although I am partial to triple creams. Here is a list of French Double and Triple Creams.  Great. Now I just drooled. 

Dessert Course: Chocolate Profiteroles, pot de crème {I like chocolate. Just a liiiiiittle bit.}

Coffee: Café noisette (strong espresso with a small amount of milk), small piece of dark chocolate

Digestiif: cognac and a re-read of A Moveable Feast

Along with a taste for the beautifully described food and drink in this memoir, I learned one of my most trusted personal writing rules from  Hemingway in these pages: “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it…I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.”

6a00d8341c562c53ef0115713438c9970c-800wiFind Hemingway’s interview with George Plimpton on the Art of Fiction Here.  Find the Hemingway Cookbook, that “recreates the dishes and drinks that nourished the author and his characters” HERE.

Interesting Hemingway Fact: Hemingway stands when he writes. With a typewriter and reading board chest-high facing him. He means business.

What would be your “must eat” menu in Paris?