Before I was a tomboy or a clotheshorse or a loser or a teenager, I was a bookworm. In that happy valley before puberty, my greatest bliss was to be given both a book and the permission to play dress-up all at once. I had a plain white trunk for my robes and silks, my wings (several kinds), my swords and my purses. Dressing up as my favorite characters was a bit of magic, and, even today, I still read novels like a costume designer. I can tell you that the best part of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is Edna Pontellier’s peignoir. I think a lot about Moriah’s underwear in Play It As It Lays (blue silk from a hotel shop) and Hana’s sneakers in The English Patient (slightly too big). How could I not? They are the only shoes she wears. Clothing means something about our destination, our origins, our field, our desires. Everyone in a novel is dressed with intention by their author.
I’ve paired with the illustrator Jenny Kroik to bring you what us bookworm-clotheshorse child-adults have always wanted: literary paper dolls. We’ve begun with J.D. Salinger’s Franny, but stay tuned for more. Print them, share them, dress them, and please, please play with them. There’s a link to your own printable paper doll at the bottom of this post. You, too, can take Franny from one edge of her breakdown to the other by taking off her smart traveling outfit and fitting her with a pale blue cashmere afghan. We who shop late nights in marketplaces online might find satisfaction in printing out a robe and pinning it literally onto not just a figurine but to a character, an author, a time period. At the very least, this will look great on your desk.
Reopening Franny and Zooey in your thirties is just like opening the diary your mother thoughtfully mailed to you after she found it in the box she’s been trying to get out of the basement. You almost can’t bear to look, but you can’t bear not to look, either. My most love-worn of J.D. Salinger’s novels, Franny and Zooey, is a story in two chapters. The first chronicles Franny’s emotional breakdown as she visits her boyfriend, Lane Coutell, during the “big Yale game.” The second follows the efforts of one of Franny’s older brothers to bring her out of her depression, which, he believes, was brought on by the overly precious environment of the Glass household: seven children of two vaudeville actors who have spent their lives winning fame on a radio show and pursuing enlightenment. As fables for the twenty-first century go, Franny and Zooey has aged just fine. All over New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and L.A., children are downing turmeric milk and meditation apps, buying salt lamps by the cave-full. But the difference is that Franny and Zooey was written in a moment when questioning the pursuit of the American dream was still novel and risqué, and there was no Buddhist mantra emanating from every set of AirPods. Salinger’s characters have died for their want of salvation and everyone’s apartment is prewar. Franny exists in the painful, beautiful first blush of adolescence.
Sociologists will tell you teenagers were invented in the late forties. They were created partly by postwar economic security and they questioned the excess from which they were hatched. Even as they were molded by advertisers and magazines, their skepticism remained an essential posture. When Salinger wrote Franny and Zooey in the mid-’50s, young people ages thirteen to nineteen, with disposable income, time, access to cars, phones, and the freedom to roam without chaperones, were only just beginning to be spoken about as a group whose fickle tastes and desires were distinct from those of adults. Salinger was one of the first bards of the teenage saga and Franny is one of his finest heroines. Last year, when Sally Rooney’s books began to appear to critical acclaim, comparisons to Salinger were inevitable. Like any good perpetual teenager, I was acutely skeptical. What could “Salinger for the snapchat generation” possibly mean? But both authors write so accurately of adolescence and its discontents. After rereading and rethinking Franny and Zooey, the meaning settled right in. The New Yorker’s Lauren Collins writes, “One of the unusual pleasures of Rooney’s novels is watching young women engage in a casual intellectual hooliganism, demolishing every mediocrity that crosses their paths, just for the fun of it,” which could describe Salinger’s Franny as much as Rooney’s Frances. Collins also concludes that Rooney’s postrecession identity might figure more prominently than her millennial identity, but rereading Salinger argues differently. Defending your island against the very tides that created it is as old as the teen herself. In Rooney’s first book, Conversations with Friends, Frances tries on the expensive coat of her older lover and admires how vulnerable she looks in it, all the while rejecting both the expense and the vulnerability. Franny, too, tries on adulthood hoping to find a home there, despite despising those who embody it. I’m officially in my thirties, but the frustration feels familiar to me. Perhaps you never fully put away childish things.
Franny is in pieces about what people wear. All the Glasses are—they’re New Yorkers, after all. Franny’s observations of other women are canny and knowing: “The Bennington-Sarah Lawrence type looked like she’d spent the whole train ride in the john, sculpting or painting or something, or as though she had a leotard on under her dress.” But about Franny herself we know only that she’s got a sheared raccoon coat with a wrinkled silk liner. Raccoon coats were just coming back into style in the late fifties as a retro nod to flapper exuberance. That’s our girl, a wrinkled liner but it’s silk. It’s the wrinkles that first frustrate Lane, her boyfriend, and it’s one of the ways we know he’s no good.
Lane thinks of Franny as “not too categorically cashmere sweater and flannel skirt,” but in truth Franny isn’t categorically anything. Dear Franny—she can’t stand to be. We’ve put her in a slightly modern sweater set based on knits Jackie Kennedy wore in Vogue with her sister in 1955.
After her collapse, Franny rides things out on the couch at home. Apparently, “Mrs. Glass, who did some of her most inspired, most perpendicular thinking on the threshold of linen closets, had bedded down her youngest child between pink percale sheets, and covered her with a pale-blue cashmere afghan.” It’s a certain kind of logic, that the right set of sheets can set you right. It’s a logic that says color and material matter, what you are wearing matters and you won’t be the only one who notices, even at home on your own couch.
Bloomberg Glass is one of the best cats in literature. Making his star entrance midscene, Bloomberg is at first concealed under Franny’s afghan, but “under the stimulus of Zooey’s investigating finger,” “abruptly stretched, then began to tunnel slowly up toward the open country of Franny’s lap.” He is a “very large mottled-gray ‘altered’ tomcat” and you can have him both ways—tucked inside the collar of the afghan or out in the open country.
On the couch, having been woken by her brother Zooey, she “sat up a bit and, with one hand, closed the lapels of her dressing gown. It was a tailored tie-silk dressing gown, beige with a pretty pattern of minute pink tea roses.” Referred to as the last word in dormitory chic fatale, Franny’s dressing gown gets caught, like Franny, in a tug-of-war between well-groomed adulthood and a sick day from childhood.
When beaded with the perspiration of her spiritual crisis, Franny rejects Lane’s handkerchief with the certainty that she has a Kleenex somewhere in her bag. “Her handbag was a crowded one. To see better, she began to unload a few things and place them on the tablecloth, just to the left of her untasted sandwich. ‘Here it is,’ she said. She used a compact mirror and quickly, lightly blotted her brow with a leaf of Kleenex.” Later, “she cleared everything—compact, billfold, laundry bill, toothbrush, a tin of aspirins, and a gold-plated swizzle stick—back into her handbag.” I knew it was down there somewhere, I say about every little thing in my bag, convincing no one.
Julia Berick is a writer who lives in New York. She works at The Paris Review.
Jenny Kroik is an illustrator and painter. She has created covers for The New Yorker, and made illustrations for The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Penguin Random House, and more.