The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for being exceptionally brainy


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Ailment: Being exceptionally brainy

Cure: Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

You'd have thought it would be a positive thing; but being a brainbox is often a hindrance to happiness. However humbly you wear your brains, being the know-it-all of your peers does not often win you their affection. No one is more keenly aware of this dichotomy than Mrs Glass, the mother of no less than seven exceptionally clever children in JD Salinger's novella, Franny and Zooey. Too-clever-by-half types will find great solace in this portrait of suffering prodigies who, ultimately, use their brains to work a solution out.

As children, all the Glass siblings achieved temporary renown as panellists on a radio programme called It's a Wise Child. Since those proud days, however, Mrs Glass has lost her eldest, Seymour, to suicide, and is now watching her youngest, Franny, have a suspected nervous breakdown on the sitting room couch. The trigger for Franny's crisis was a weekend date with her college beau, Lane, during which she found herself criticising him relentlessly. "I simply could not keep a single opinion to myself," she laments to her brother Zooey. "Almost from the very second he met me at the station, I started picking and picking and picking at all his opinions and values and – just everything." That the generous – or, let's admit it, slower – Lane didn't really notice the attack doesn't appease poor Franny. She hates herself for it, and sees no hope for her future relationships.

Seymour, of course, failed to find a way out of his disaffection. But Franny, with the help of Zooey, has an epiphany that promises a more positive dynamic with others from now on. Her epiphany can be yours, too. And meanwhile, what a comfort this novella will be when you discover you're not the only one who knows what it's like to be shunned for your brains. Just as you're not the only one to love the Glass siblings for the very brilliance that makes them unloveable in their own eyes.