Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Thoughts on The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961)

I finished The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961) over the weekend, and the novel's still on my mind. The Moviegoer is the story of the eccentric Binx Bolling (whose real name is Jack). He's 29 and works as a stock broker in New Orleans. Binx is the detached observer of his own life and of those around him. He only feels alive when he goes to a movie, and if he's not spending an evening in a movie theatre, he's perusing the local paper to find the schedule of films and making his plans.

Although he comes from an upper class Southern family, Binx chooses to live in a middle class suburb of New Orleans, known as Gentilly. His interactions with people are guarded, even with his own family. Binx is in the midst of a crisis in his life where he's experiencing dissatisfaction and malaise. He attempts to get out of this crisis through what he calls "the search" and a need to escape from the "everydayness" of life, or as Binx explains it:

"To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place--but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settling down with a vengeance. In two weeks time, he is so sunk in everydayness that he might as well be dead."

His aristocratic Aunt Emily, who regularly summons Binx to her mansion in the Garden District, feels that he's wasting his life and should be in medical school. But Binx is happy making money, and there's also the allure of his secretary du jour. In Binx's small office where he works with one secretary, the secretaries come and go. Binx has enjoyed romantic entanglements with these women even though he knows that the relationships will end badly. 

The one genuine relationship Binx has is with his beautiful yet suicidal cousin, Kate. Even their time together is fraught with a bit of angst and "everydayness." Binx understands Kate and her many moods because he's seen it all before. While the family frets and calls doctors, it's up to Binx to take care of Kate. Much of the story deals with whether Binx will truly find what he's looking for in "the search," or whether he'll continue his life in the safety of his routines. 

The story occurs during the week leading up to Mardi Gras, sometime after the Korean War. A strength of this novel is how place plays an important role. Percy's descriptions of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are evocative and full of atmosphere. There's a lovely rhythm to Percy's writing that made me enjoy getting lost in the prose. It's easy to see how this novel established Percy as a noted writer of Southern literature.

I would recommend The Moviegoer to readers who enjoy Southern fiction.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes, I remember Binx Bolling (what a name!) from your Tuesday Intro post. I do enjoy Southern fiction, so on the list it goes!