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)
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
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.
Say something about yourself!
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.
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."
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.
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.
I found this story to be a mix between Tennessee William's "The Glass Menagerie" and J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye." Unfortunately, this book was neither as well written nor as interesting as those other two. The performance was fine.
I found this book a bit odd. The plot was not entirely developed, in my opinion. It has to do will being stuck in everydayness but that is all I got out of it.
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