Here's the synopsis: The book is about the Glass family (if you've read Nine Stories or Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters then you know about these characters), focusing mainly on the two youngest children (they are 20 and 25). There are seven altogether: Seymour, the oldest, committed suicide before the book opens... Buddy teaches writing at some all-girls college in New England... Boo-Boo is married with three kids... then there is a set of twins: Walt, the older one, was killed during WWII and Waker is a priest... Zooey is a sarcastic, impatient actor that is oh-so-reminiscent of Holden Caulfield... Franny is the youngest who attends college. All of them were on a radio program as children because they were all geniuses.
Seymour and Buddy were really into philosophy and religion - especially Eastern - and when Franny and Zooey were children, they pumped them full of it all. As an adult, Zooey resents the fact that he and his sister were raised on that stuff because he feels that it messed them up.
The book is mainly about Franny's religious crisis. She begins reading The Way of a Pilgrim, a novel that addresses the scriptural command to pray without ceasing. Apparently a person is supposed to repeat, over and over, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," and eventually it will become involuntary like a heartbeat, and the person will really pray without ever ceasing, forming a connection with God. She becomes obsessed with the prayer but it takes its toll on her: she won't eat, she passes out while on a date, she's basically out of it. Zooey is the only one who can snap her out of it because he's so straight-forward and because Salinger endows him with cynical wisdom.
Here are some wonderful quotes:
Franny to Zooey on knowledge
"What happened, was, I got the idea in my head - and I could not get it out - that college was just one more dopey, inane place in the world dedicated to piling up treasure on earth and everything. I mean treasure is treasure, for heaven's sake.
What's the difference whether the treasure is money, or property, or even culture, or even just plain knowledge? It all seemed like exactly the same thing to me, if you take off the wrapping - and it still does!"
"You talk about piling up treasure - money, property, culture, knowledge, and so on and so on. In going ahead with the Jesus Prayer - just let me finish, now, please - in going ahead with the Jesus Prayer, aren't you trying to lay up some kind of treasure? Something that's every goddam bit as negotiable as all those other, more material things? Or does the fact that it's a prayer make all the difference? I mean by that, is there all the difference in the world, for you, in which side somebody lays up his treasure - this side, or the other? The one where thieves can't break in, et cetera? [...] As you say, treasure's treasure, God damn it, and it seems to me that ninety per cent of all the world-hating saints in history were just as acquisitive and unattractive, basically, as the rest of us are."
Zooey on Jesus, thinking Franny doesn't really understand who Jesus is
"The part that stumps me, really stumps me, is that I can't see why anybody - unless he was a child, or an angel, or a lucky simpleton like the pilgrim - would even want to say the prayer to a Jesus who was the least bit different from the way he looks and sounds in the New Testament. My God! He's only the most intelligent man in the Bible, that's all! Who isn't he head and shoulders over? Who? Both Testaments are full of pundits, prophets, disciples, favorite sons, Solomons, Isaiahs, Davids, Pauls - but, my God, who besides Jesus really knew which end was up? Nobody. Not Moses. Don't tell me Moses. He was a nice man, and he kept in beautiful touch with his God, and all that - but that's exactly the point. He had to keep in touch. Jesus realized there is no separation from God."