Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Moviegoer

Walker Percy's moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a stockbroker in suburban New Orleans in the early 1960's. At the beginning of the novel, Binx is twenty-nine years old, living alone in a rented apartment, earning a lot of money without having to work very hard for it, and attempting to seduce the third in a series of attractive secretaries. He really loves, or seems to really love, his step-cousin Kate, a depressive without much of a social life, whose family tries to coax into getting out of the house more often. Binx likes his job, but not as much as he likes earning money, and he likes women, but not as much as he likes the chase. The only things he really seems to enjoy are going to the movies and wandering around big cities like New Orleans and Chicago, taking in the sights doing whatever feels good at the time.

Binx isn't hedonistic as much as he a "single individual," (Kierkegaard is often cited as an influence on Percy) who doesn't have much interest in the things that successful young men his age are supposed to care about. I would be willing to bet that this part of the novel struck a chord with readers in the early 60's, when the wife-and-kids-and-white-picket-fence ideal was being relentlessly shoved down everybody's throat. In fact, in the 1960's and 70's, The Moviegoer was often described as a "Catcher in the Rye for adults." That comparison is pretty apt - I liked Catcher more than The Moviegoer, but then I read The Catcher in the Rye at a more impressionable age. I wouldn't say that The Moviegoer has aged poorly, but it hasn't held up as well as three books it won the 1962 National Book Award over - Joseph Heller's Catch-22, J.D Salinger's Franny & Zooey, and Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, all of which are classics in their own right, perhaps because its theme was trendier in 1962 than it is now, whereas those other books have themes that are more timeless (if that's a thing). Its very well-written, but that writing never served a plot, or developed characters, in which I felt particularly invested.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I agree with your assessment of The Moviegoer. I pretty much read it as fast as possible to get it over with. I thought it was interesting how at the end of the book Binx had gone from moviegoer to director (of Kate) but I wondered if that wasn't a bit sexist too.