Binx's life floats casually along until one fateful Mardi Gras week, when a bizarre series of events leads him to his unlikely salvation. In his half-brother Lonnie, who is confined to a wheelchair and soon to die, and his stepcousin Kate, whose predicament is even more ominous, Binx begins to find the sort of "certified reality" that had eluded him everywhere but at the movies.
©1961 Walker Percy; (P)1992 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"In a gentle Southern accent narrator Christopher Hurt delivers the story with a slow, lazy lilt which suits the text and evokes a pervading spiritual emptiness." (AudioFile)
"Clothed in originality, intelligence, and a fierce regard for man's fate....Percy has a rare talent for making his people look and sound as though they were being seen and heard for the first time by anyone." (Time)
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
Before I read 'the Moviegoer' my only real exposure to Walker Percy was reading A Confederacy of Dunces (a novel not written by Percy, but one which he discovered, published and wrote the forward to) and through his friendship with Shelby Foote. Anyway, fifty pages into 'the Moviegoer', I was ready to declare my undying love for Walker Percy. 'The Moviegoer' reminded me of a southern Catholic Graham Greene + F. Scott Fitzgerald + William Gaddis. With Greene's Catholic ambiguity and Fitzgerald's sad, romantic tone and Gaddis' playful allusiveness Percy dances with grace, charm and style through the minefield of the modern/postmodern world.
Christopher Hurt did us, and this book, all, a huge disservice when he neglected to research the way that city streets, and neighborhoods are actually pronounced by people who live in the area. His character lives in Gentilly, a New Orleans suburb, but irritatingly says things like ByOH instead of the commonly said Byoo pronunciation of the word bayou. He mispronounces street names liberally, from beginning to end in a fashion that makes most first time tourists to the city seem like natives by comparison. (For example, dear Mr. Hurt, the name Marigny has a silent letter g. Tchoupitoulas St. is not Ti-chipi-tolois, it's said Chop-i-too-lus. Next time, please investigate, don't presume. You can ruin a story with such neglect.)
The overall effect became so annoying at one point that I nearly forgot the story and decided I could not finish the book until a different reader records it, or I find it at the library.
In some books I suppose this crime would be forgivable, but Percy uses street and neighborhood names as landmarks all over this story to keep us aware of where we are, and what the scenes even mean, since in New Orleans, the part of town you are in at certain times carries a great deal of influence over what takes place, and how you react to it.
Also too, there is an affectation to his portrayal of the character that makes his fervent interest in women seem wholly inauthentic. Perhaps he was trying for "generic Southern", but lapsed into "generic southern-gay" instead, which would have been artful and skilled had the character been so, but this one is not. So, instead,it just bolsters the impression that our reader was lazy, and did not do his homework before his recording sessions began.
It wasn't until I had strolled around several blocks of the French Quarter (or most of the novel) with the charming narrator Binx that I realized I had joined Binx on a journey, or a search...a Camu, Kierkegaard or Frankl search...for meaning and purpose. One of *those kinds* of books, (listed as one of the 100 most important books of the century)--I was a philosophy/psych major so I enjoy those kinds of books, and the aftereffect...those haunting days afterward when the book still has you in its tenacious mental grip. It is in the afterward that the power and brilliance of the The Moviegoer lies.
Percy's antagonist, Binx, is a genteel southern dandy, from big southern money, who walks the comfortable streets of his home town, narrating the scenery, mixed with a little free association and personal stories from his 30 years. He observes the day to day world, detached and unable to live outside his head. His relationships, both his dalliances with his secretaries and his family interactions, also have an observed quality void of connection since he returned from the Korean war . The novel revolves around Binx's day to day observations and his disconnect rather than any plot. It is in the days after that last page that this novel, and its project, crystallizes in the reader. Not every reader enjoys the thoughtful effort necessary to understand this enigmatic novel; The Moviegoer requires the readers participation in the creative process and some deep thinking--the legacy of Walker Percy's Christian existential philosophies, and truly great writing. To write a review that does this one justice, I'll have to read again and do some deep thinking (a little slow on the grasp)--looking forward to it.
The thing that struct me most of all in this book is that the the author has managed the rare feat of creating a truly intelligent and aware character. Somehow, I almost always get the feeling that writers hold something back from the knowledge or understanding of their characters; the character is never smart enough to see the parallels and symbolism that we, as readers, are expected to follow. And "The Moviegoer" is not like this, which makes it a moving and meaningful book.
Other than that, I found the plot, the ideas and the writing beautiful. In fact, after finishing the book I realized it reminded me of another literary/philosophical masterpiece, "The Nausea" by Jean Paul Sartre. And sure enough, a quick google search showed me that many critics have written about this.
As for the narration: I'm no expert on New Orleans accents, but I thought the reading was very well done, and it was close enough for my ears.
In short: not a book for everyone's taste, but if you like this sort of thing this is a book that will keep you thinking for a long time.
Don't go to this novel for movies. The narrator goes occasionally to ameliorate the condition of being landed, white and bored in New Orleans. Even his visit to Chicago during Marti Gras is a bust. In gothic tradition, mental illness comes with an unseemly adherence for manners. SPOILER: When his aunt talks to him about the Chicago trip, she puts the cord in cordiality. How could he take a mentally ill woman to Chicago? This scene alone is worth the read, provided you read for subtext. The aunt says some things about class in The South that explain her assumptions and have far-reaching implications about the greater problems let unresolved by the failure of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Ears picking up the slack so my eyes can work.
This book really is the gem other reviewers make it out to be. I admit the title interested me more than anything. Then that it won whatever award that it did. What I found was more than I hoped. First impression was that filmmaker Terry Malick must have adored Walker Percy in the years leading up to his directorial debut, Badlands. Malick’s whole style appears lifted/borrowed/inspired right from these pages. I felt like I was reading a literary version of a Terrence Malick film, which is a good thing, not a complaint. A point of interest. Malick’s last film to date is called To The Wonder, and that phrase is used somewhere in these pages and to with the context Malick would use it. If you’re a Malick student, then Walker Percy surely would provide some insight. I’d LOVE if Malick made this into a film.
My other impression is Walker Percy himself seemed somewhat inspired by Albert Camus’ The Stranger. By the end, The Moviegoer is really a less violent, fuller and Americanized version of that book. I’m sure there are philosophical differences. Percy is much less enigmatic. Again, if you’re a student of Camus’ The Stranger, The Moviegoer may be of interest.
It’s a beautifully written novel. That’s all I really have to say about it directly. I listen to books more than read them these days. But I might have preferred reading this book as opposed to being exposed to the material with this reader’s narration. I felt like it undermined the mood of the novel. Walker Percy’s words carried weariness, ambiguity, and the reader implied very little of that. He sounded about as bland in a sort of affable Mayberry way as you can get. I don’t understand Audible’s decision to pair him with Percy. Judging from other reviewers, he doesn’t even get the language correct in many places.
I know I’m being obvious, but I feel like Will Patton would have been a perfect reader. He does many French quarter novels. James Lee Burke, etc. Patton’s great. He would have killed here.
Texas' Nacogdoches and Louisiana's Natchitoches (pronounced locally Nack'-e-tish), sister cities across the border demonstrate just how many light years there are between the two states. The reader, I read Texan, and producer have no business allowing the reader to mispronounce place names wholesale creating a fingernails-on-chalkboard experience to an otherwise middling good read. How would anyone think that Feliciana Parish is Felishiana Parish or Chef Menteur pronounced Chef Monture? And those are the easy ones. Only the strength of the writing led me to complete the listen. My copy of the book sprung mold sitting in Katrina water, or I would have abandoned this lazy performance for the excellence of the book.
Set in New Orleans in the 1950's, Walker Percy's now mostly forgotten classic won the National Book Award in 1962 and depicts the erosion of the traditional South beneath the flood-tide of post-war American culture. The eponymous moviegoer/protagonist, Binx Bolling, an alienated young stockbroker, searches fruitlessly for meaning in his vapidly mundane existence. Throw in a little Cathlolic angst, a good dose of family conflict and it sounds like a recipe for some seriously dreary existentialism, but the tone of the book is light, almost playful in parts, and the narration gets it just right.
Being from New Orleans, and Gentilly in particular, I must point out that Mr. Hurt mispronounced some local names. However, this didn't detract from his narration & the book itself. Listen to it & let it sink in.
"To become aware of the possibility of a search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair."
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