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Walker Percy: The Thanatos Syndrome

Thomas More, hero of Love in the Ruins, is back in this novel, having served two years in prison for selling prescription drugs to truck drivers. Through More and through his friend, Father Simon Rinaldo Smith, who lives alone on top of a firetower, a latter day Simon Stylites, Percy again castigates modern America but takes it a bit further this time. Euthanasia is still used but now handicapped children under eighteen months old are”compassionately” killed and AIDS patients are quarantined. Percy makes the very specific comparison with Nazi Germany. More particularly, More notices that people tend to be more vacant. Crime is down but so is passion. His raison d’être will to be find out why and, together with his cousin, Lucy Lipscomb, an epidemiologist, he unearths an even more dastardly plot at social control, with heavy sodium being dropped in the water supply from the nuclear plant to make people better behaved. They may be better behaved but they are clearly less human. More and Lucy face obstacles to their crusade, as most of the leading citizens of the town are in on it and threaten them if their secret is exposed but, as a good Percy hero, Thomas More struggles through. Yet, somehow, this book is less convincing, more angry than its predecessors. Percy’s philosophy and whimsy are still there but his soapbox approach is more apparent and it makes this book less of a novel and more of a tract.

Publishing history

First published 1987 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux