Walker Percy: The Last Gentleman
Will Barrett, the hero of this novel, shares a few things with Binx Bolling of The Moviegoer but, in particular, he has a past that troubles him and is unsure of his future. He works as what he calls a humidification engineer at Macy’s in New York and lives in the YMCA. He suffers from bouts of amnesia. In short, like Binx, he is going nowhere. He has just received a sum of money from an inheritance when the novel opens and uses it to buy a telescope to watch a falcon. However, instead of the falcon it is Kitty Vaught he sees and he falls in love with her. Will soon becomes involved with the Vaught family and each one of them has something to teach him, albeit unbeknownst to them. Apart from falling in love with Kitty, he becomes very much involved with her brother, Jamie, who is dying of leukemia. But her father, the largest Chevrolet dealer in the South, her mother, who believes the South lost the Civil War because of a Jewish conspiracy, her brother, Sutter, a pathologist with a death obsession who plans suicide (reminding Will of his own father, who did kill himself) and, finally, her sister, a Val, a nun who teaches deprived black children, all influence him in their own way. As with Binx, he does find himself, albeit at the expense of a sacrifice (Jamie dies) though, as always with Percy, there is a certain ambiguity to the ending. But, once again, with his wit, his exposure of contemporary society and its foibles and his broad philosophical outlook, Percy has left us with a very fine novel.
First published 1966 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux