Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy - 1961- Winner National Book Award

About forty five years ago I bought a copy of The Moviegoer by Walker Percy on the recommendation of a professor.   It was endorsed for its use of themes of existential writers like Camus, Sarte and most of all Kierkegaard whom Percy extensively read.  I was in university then and I left the book on a table and went through the line at the school cafeteria.  When I came back the book was gone.   I was upset but I never replaced the book.  Now I am very happy to have at last read Walker Percy's (1916 to 1990, Covington, Louisiana, USA) National Book Award winning debut novel.  I wonder if the thief ever read it. My guess is they were not up to the task. 

The novel is centered on the life and reflections of a New Orleans stock broker, Binx Bolling, a veteran of the Korean War.  He suffers no great angst, no profound ethical quandries trouble his sleep.  He makes a comfortable living, he comes from a decent well of upper middle class type of family.  He loves going to the movies and the narrative has lots of references to movies of the period.  He has a series of romances but none of the women mean much to him.  In the course of the novel we learn a good bit about New Orleans in the late 1950s.  There are numerous refrences to "Negros" by Binx.  He is not grossly racist but there is an unpleasant aspect to this.  Going along with the existential themes of The Moviegoer I wondered if Binx was partially defining himself as white and therefore intrinsically a freer, wholer person than a person of color. In 1961 it was ok to use the word "Negro" so maybe I am overreacting to this but he does seem obsessed with defining people by their race. Is Binx a racist? I don't really have an answer to that.  His attitude toward women also is problematic.

Binx's "crisis" really is that he is bored, his work and life seem meaningless to him.  He wonders if he should go to medical school and settle down with one woman.  He saw terrible things in the Korean War and he cannot find anybody to really relate to now that he is home.  He was raised a Catholic and he has read existential writers who were trendy in the USA in the period.   He makes a kind of night world trip that was intriquining. 

The Moviegoer was an interesting book.  The prose is beautiful and Binx will make you think. It is an important part of the canon of literature of the American South, depicted a more gentile calmer world than Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor.  It does, I think, require an understanding of the culture and history of the American South, particularly that of New Orleans to be really appreciated.

I might read it again.  

The edition of The Moviegoer I read was published by Open Road Intergrated Media. They offer a wide diversified fairly priced selection of works.  I recommend you take a look at their  very well done webpage

Mel u


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