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[489] The Moviegoer – Walker Percy

” Have you noticed that only in the time of illness or disaster or death are people real? I remember at the time of the wreck—people were so kind and helpful and solid. Everyone pretended that our lives until that moment had been every bit as real as the moment itself and that the future must be real too when the truth was that our reality had been purchased by (someone’s) death. In another hour or so we had all faded out again . . . ” (Ch.2, p.81)

The Moviegoer takes place over the course of one week, during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and concerns Binx Bolling, the eponymous moviegoer who will turn thirty by the end of the novel. A dreamy stock-broker and a scion of an old patriarchal family, Binx is on a search for some existential meaning. Since he’s reared in a noble stock, and he excels what he does, he has no worry on making a living. In his spare time he frequents the movie theater, watching films whose fabricated reality seems more real than the reality of his life.

The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. (Ch.1, p.7)

I honestly do not get much out of this novel, which takes on the inquisitive course on behalf of some miserable people who live lives of ennui and without purpose. In return for his aunt’s kindness to raise him, Binx feels responsible for his cousin’s well-being. Kate is emotionally wrecked. She never recovers from the death of her fiance and Binx is the one person in whose company she no longer feels she is coming near the brink of an abyss. Her mental landscape is one that moves from the suicidally depressive to a make-believe euphoria. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. Nothing seems to interest him. He is on a search but the purpose of which he owes readers an elaboration. Maybe he doesn’t even know himself. Between dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, his search for some unknown authenticity enrages hs family, and endangers his fragile cousin.

I know you’re not a bad boy—I wish you were. But how did it happen that none of this ever meant anything to you? Clearly it did not. Would you please tell me? I am genuinely curious. (Ch.5, p.224)

Walker Percy’s 1961 debut is character-driven, with fierce regard to a soul that is, sadly, not capable of caring for anyone. Even in the company of people he is in physical and psychological dislocation. The narrative is lush but could be draining, making you wonder if the protagonist is in his right mind. Maybe he is too intent to seek happiness? For a life spent seeking “happiness” is almost doomed to failure, because happiness, both as a concept and as reality, is difficult to grasp and to retain.

242 pp. Vintage. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

8 Responses

  1. I bought this book for my mother on her birthday, but never got around to reading it… Thank you for the lovely review!

    • Not much is going on in this book other than the protagonist’s “drifting” during the course of his search for some meaning. His writing though is first-rate.

  2. I love it – have read it twice.

    • I enjoy Percy’s writing style, and he has limned a character very thoroughly. He pulls that trick to make the novel work by exaggerating Binx’s defects and vices.

  3. This won the National Book Award, beating out Revolutionary Road. I think Richard Yates got robbed!!!

  4. […] [489] The Moviegoer – Walker Percy […]

  5. I’ve not read this one but have certainly heard of the author before. It does seem a sad life to pursue constant happiness. The moments in our life when we face sadness form our character just as much, actually more, than when we are happy and carefree.

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