Book for November 2011
The loose plot of the novel follows Binx as he embarks on an undefined "search," wandering around New Orleans, Chicago and the Gulf Coast reflecting philosophically on small episodes and interactions. He is constantly challenged to define himself in relation to friends, family, lovers and career despite his urge to remain vague and open to possibility.
"What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."
The novel is heavily influenced by the existentialist themes of authors like Søren Kierkegaard, whom Percy read extensively. Unlike many dark didactic existentialist novels (including Percy's later work), The Moviegoer has a light poetic tone. It was Percy's first, most famous and most widely praised novel.
When Percy was 13, his father also committed suicide by shotgun, and the Percy family moved to Athens, Georgia. Two years later, his mother died in a car crash when she drove off a country bridge and into Deer Creek near Leland, Mississippi — an accident that Percy regarded as another suicide. Walker and his two younger brothers, Phin and Roy, then moved to Greenville, Mississippi, where his bachelor uncle William Alexander Percy, a lawyer, poet, and autobiographer, became their guardian and adopted them. Percy was raised an agnostic, though nominally affiliated with a theologically liberal Presbyterian church. "Uncle Will" introduced him to many writers and poets and to a neighboring boy his own age — Shelby Foote, who became his life-long best friend. Later, he and his wife would both join the Roman Catholic Church, Percy insisting on being confirmed with the children, a sign of his new life.
As young men, Percy and Foote decided to pay their respects to William Faulkner by visiting him in Oxford, Mississippi. However, when they finally drove up to his home, Percy was so in awe of the literary giant that he could not bring himself to talk to him. Later on, he recounted how he could only sit in the car and watch while Foote and Faulkner had a lively conversation on the porch.
Percy joined Foote at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was initiated into the Xi chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He then trained as a medical doctor at Columbia University in New York City, receiving his medical degree in 1941. After contracting tuberculosis from performing an autopsy while interning at Bellevue Hospital Center, Percy spent the next several years recuperating at the Trudeau Sanitorium in the Saranac Lake, New York in the Adirondacks.
During this period Percy read the works of the Danish existentialist writer, Søren Kierkegaard, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, and he began to question the ability of science to explain the basic mysteries of human existence. Having been influenced by the example of one of his college roommates to rise daily at dawn and go to Mass, Percy decided that he would become a Catholic (in 1947).