Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Moviegoer: Walker Percy


The Moviegoer was my pick for the Classics Club spin, and I am glad I finally read something by Walker Percy. 

Binx Bolling is from a wealthy family, is a veteran of the Korean War, lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been set up in a stock broker office by relatives. Although Binx has plenty of acquaintances, old school friends, and relatives, he seems to be lonely and looking for answers to what life is all about. One Goodreads reviewer described this book as "existentialism Southern style" and I think that is very apt. Binx likes to go to movies and he sometimes carries on conversations in his head with favorite actors. 

He is thirty or thereabouts and his aunt is pushing him to do something more important with his life. She wants him to go to medical school and she will pay the bills for his education. Not a bad idea but I hate to see people trying to run other people's lives.

Binx has the habit of hiring a secretary, always young and appealing, and he courts her gradually. Usually the secretary want the relationship to get serious, and he doesn't, so she leaves and he moves on to another secretary. But his real love is his cousin Kate. She also is searching for something, depressed after the loss of a lover in a car crash years before. 

The first five paragraphs in the book are perfect, but that is too much too share. Here are the first two paragraphs.

This morning I got a note from my aunt asking me to come to lunch. Since I go there every Sunday for dinner and today is Wednesday, it can only mean one thing: she wants to have one of her serious talks.  It will be extremely grave, either a piece of bad news about her stepdaughter Kate or else a serious talk about me, about the future and what I ought to do.  It is enough to scare the wits out of anyone, yet I confess I do not find the prospect altogether unpleasant.

I remember when my older brother Scott died of pneumonia. I was eight years old. My aunt had charge of me and she took me for a walk behind the hospital. It was an interesting street. On one side were the power plant and blowers and incinerator of the hospital, all humming and blowing out a hot meaty smell. On the other side was a row of Negro houses. Children and old folks and dogs sat on the porches watching us. I noticed with pleasure that Aunt Emily seemed to have all the time in the world and was willing to talk about anything I wanted to talk about. Something extraordinary had happened all right. We walked slowly in step. “Jack,” she said, squeezing me tight and smiling at the Negro shacks, “you and I have always been good buddies, haven’t we?” “Yes ma’am.” My heart gave a big pump and the back of my neck prickled like a dog’s. “I’ve got bad news for you, son.” She squeezed me tighter than ever. “Scotty is dead. Now it’s all up to you. It’s going to be difficult for you but I know you’re going to act like a soldier.” This was true. I could easily act like a soldier. Was that all I had to do?

The first paragraph summarizes the story, and entices the read to learn more. The second paragraph gives a good picture of the American South in the 1960s.

My thoughts:

At first my reaction was, why read about rich people dealing with angst about life, when their life is so much better than that of most of the people around them? But I was drawn in and wanted to find out where Binx's life would go, and Kate's. They may be rich and want for little, but they are not happy.

The primary setting is New Orleans, which is a lovely city, but Binx talks a lot about other cities in nearby states that I am also familiar with. This is one of the few books I have read set in the South where I had some recognition of my own feelings and experiences. My family was at a much lower socioeconomic level than the characters in this book, though. 

I had expected more about movies based on the title. However that did not affect my enjoyment of the book. That element is just one way the reader learns about Binx and his meandering thoughts.

I don't know if the ending of the story was too easy and unrealistic, but I do know I liked it and it made me happy in the end. 


Publisher:  Avon Books, 1982. Orig. pub. 1961.
Length:     191 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     New Orleans, Louisiana
Genre:      Fiction
Source:    My husband gave me his copy of this book years ago.


Mary R. said...

I read this book in college (so, about a million years ago) and I remember loving it. Your review makes me want to reread it!

TracyK said...

Mary, I am sure I will reread it someday too. I think that there is so much that I missed the first time through. And I want to pay attention to which movies he talks about and all the books that are mentioned.

Rick Robinson said...

I read your review twice through, and am sorry to say I don’t understand the book or what it’s about. Guess it’s literary fiction about a family but it’s beyond me. Glad you enjoyed it.

Cath said...

A very interesting sounding book. Different and I like to read something different from time to time. Takes me right out of my comfort zone and that's always good.

TracyK said...

Rick, I did have a hard time writing this review and I knew I would have difficulty describing the book. It is about a family but specifically about a youngish man who is philosophizing about his life, and his cousin, Kate, who is depressed. I found it interesting but it is a downer at times, which you usually don't like.

TracyK said...

Cath, the depictions of the setting (New Orleans and other parts of the South in the 1960s) is excellent, although from the point of view of someone with little worries about money. I will be interested to see how much his other books resemble this one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This is one of my favorite books. The first time I read it, I didn't get it. Lots of books are like that for me, it has to come to me at the right age and time. I have read others by him. I have to look and see which ones.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have read most of his books but all but this one a long time ago. I remember liking THE LAST GENTLEMAN. Maybe I should reread that one. And in terms of books about the rich, if they are the only people you know I guess you are only authentic when you write about them. But there has to either be a critique of them or their wealth has to be incidental, downplayed. I am very uneasy when they seem to be celebrated.

TracyK said...

Patti, although I enjoyed the book, and especially the ending, I enjoyed the bits I reread while writing this more than when I first read them. Some books do get better on rereading them.

Glen passed this book and five others by Percy on to me, and he had read them all years earlier. And liked them. Mathew Paust read and reviewed five of Percy's books in 2017 and 2018 and loved them.

Re reading about the rich, I don't mind it so much, but I like a contrast between rich and less well off, such as in police procedurals or the Nero Wolfe series, where there is a commentary of what the rich think they can get away with.

TracyK said...

FROM Sam Sattler, but blogger would not let me publish it...

"I can't believe I haven't read this one. Could have sworn I had, but it doesn't show up on either of the lists I keep. Those opening paragraphs really cover a lot of ground, even to letting the reader know what to expect from the rest of the novel. That's rather brilliant, really."

TracyK said...

Sam, I am surprised you haven't read it too.

That first paragraph is a great hook, and the next four paragraphs tell a lot about the book, without of course revealing too much. The writing is wonderful, but sometimes I miss that part of it when I am reading too fast.

Margot Kinberg said...

I do like the writing style here, Tracy. And it sounds as though those are really interesting characters. I have to admit to a liking for the New Orleans setting, too. I've always heard this was a good one, and it looks as though it is.