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Walker Percy: The Moviegoer

Looking for the meaning of life and alienation from the world are staples of modern literature and this is a classic of the genre. Binx Bolling, twenty-nine years old at the beginning of this novel, which takes place in Mardi Gras week, is drifting through life. He likes his job (a stockbroker) and making money at it, he likes women (he works his way through a succession of secretaries) and he likes going to the cinema. Like all good alienation heroes, he has a couple of demons. The first, inevitably, is his father. His father did try to give meaning to his own life but, towards the end, felt unable to do so and just drifted away. The second is his memory of the Korean War, in which he fought and was wounded. He dreams of this and recalls that his wounding and proximity to death gave him a purpose that he has not had since. He uses the movies to try and give him this purpose, as they often seem to have a clarity that everyday life does not but, of course, does not succeed.

All this changes when his Aunt Emily summons him to help with her stepdaughter, Kate. Kate’s fiancé was killed in a car crash, in which she was a passenger. Aunt Emily has words with her nephew and his lack of direction and, on his thirtieth birthday, he realizes that his life is going nowhere. Like most of us, he comes, finally to accept that life is, more or less, the everyday stuff and that it can, to a certain degree, be given purpose by a close relationship with someone else, that goes beyond the merely sexual. Obviously, with the wrong writer, this could be mawkish rubbish but Percy is such a skilful and witty writer that he can tap right into the inherent malaise of our times and show at least one way of dealing with it, beyond the more European approach of despair and death.

Publishing history

First published 1961 by Knopf