K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > The Moviegoer

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
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Oct 16, 2010

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Recommended to K.D. by: Time 100 Best Novels, National Book Award 1962
Read on October 16, 2010 — I own a copy , read count: 1

John "Binx" Bolling will soon be turning 30. An ex-Korean war soldier, he is adrift. A lost soul searching for signs where to go, what to do with his life, or even what his existence means. He works in the office as a stockbroker sharing his office with his secretary, Sharon who he is secretly in love with. When he goes home, he busies himself reading his books (Arabia Deserta, Charterhouse of Pharma, The Prophet, etc) and seeing movies (The Ox-Bow Incident, It Happened One Night, Young Philadelphian, Fort Dobbs, All Quiet in Western Front) in a town theater. Since his brother's death when he was 8, his Aunt Emily took care of him. His mother got married and went to another town when his father died before his brother. His Aunt Emily wanted him to be a successful man but Binx does not know what he wants to do in his life. He is suffering from malaise that Percy defines as: pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo's ghost. Note: Banquo is the ghost in Shakespeare's 1606 play, Macbeth.

The plot is simple and Percy's philosophical musings can definitely bore mainstream readers. However, check Percy's life history: the prominent Percy clan in Birmingham, Alabama, his father committing suicide, his mother died in a car crash that Percy also thought to be a suicide, his lawyer-uncle raising his as agnostic, as a tongue-tied young man in front of William Faulkner, medical doctor in 1941, recuperating from tuberculosis in Saranak Lake sanatorium (same place where President Quezon died), marrying and having 2 daughters, receiving his National Book Award (for his first book, this book The Moviegoer) in 1962 and dead of prostate cancer in 1990 eighteen days before his 74th birthday. Six novels to his name with The Moviegoer as the most popular one. TIME even included this among their list of Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

A life well lived yet, while reading the novel, you cannot help but empathize with Binx in his loneliness, his Holden-like angst, sense of loss, his confusion. The doldrum of his daily life: reading books, seeing movies. The daily grind in the office working with a series of secretaries whose names happen to be the most popular in the South: Marcia, Linda, Sharon and the possibility of having Stephanie if he continues working there. He has a cousin, Kate who he loves but he does not know - as he is lost - what to do about it. Their dialogs are a joy to read: bittersweet, romantic, funny, witty. My favorite is the closing scene:

"You're sweet," says Kate uneasily. "now tell me..."
"What?"
"While I am on the streetcar - are you going to be thinking about me?'
"Yes."
"What if I don't make it?"
"Get off and walk home."
"I've got to be sure about one thing."
"What?"
"I'm going to sit next to the window on the Lake side and put the cape jasmine in my lap?"
"That's right."
"Good by."
"Good by."

Twenty feet away she turns around.
"Mr Klostermann?"
"Mr Klostermann."
I watch her walk toward St Charles, cape jasmine held against her cheek, until my brothers and sisters call out behind me.

And oh the movies. Percy has this theory called certification. It means your life does not exist until you see it or a part of it on the celluloid screen. Once you do, it is certified. Just like being in San Francisco in October 2005 where many popular American movies were shot. A couple months ago, I saw a local tearjerker Sa Yo Lamang and the opening scene is Bea Alonzo driving in front of SM City North EDSA. She is secretly following her mother played by Lorna Tolentino and she is about to find his mother's long-kept secret: of having another child by another man.

Upon finding the secret, Bea, like Binx, experienced a deep sense of loss, confusion and even pain. However, time heals wounds however deep they may be. Bea, like Binx, also spent the rest of the movie confused and bitter. After all, pain is part of our life's journey. Who knows, like Walker Percy, the Beas and Binxes in us may in the end will be leaving this world with well-lived lives despite all of its twists and turns.

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10/16/2010 page 92
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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Judith Oh, oh, another of my favorites!!!


K.D. Absolutely Terribly beautiful, Judith. I am with you on this!


Teresa I was excited to see that you were reading this, K.D., and then happy to see that you gave it 5 stars.

Walker Percy is one of my favorite writers -- I was lucky enough to hear him speak, in 1988, I think it was. He's also one of the few writers that I've read all of his novels more than once.


Judith Thanks for the nice review, K.D. It was just good to be taken back into the story again -- even for a few minutes. I really must re-read this one.


K.D. Absolutely Thanks for the like, T. Wow. Really? I have not met a single real author in my whole life so far. We have a author-friend here in Goodreads but she still has to attend our meet up. But Walker Percy in real life? I could be like him meeting William Faulkner perhaps if that will happen!

Thanks for the kind words, Judith. Yes, this is a good book for re-reading. As he used books and movies during his period this might be seen by younger generation as outdated though. So our generation can help this to become deathless if we re-read it and speak positively of it.


message 6: by Teresa (last edited Oct 17, 2010 06:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Teresa K.D. wrote: "Thanks for the like, T. Wow. Really? I have not met a single real author in my whole life so far. We have a author-friend here in Goodreads but she still has to attend our meet up. But Walker Percy in real life? I could be like him meeting William Faulkner perhaps if that will happen! "

You've got it exactly right, K.D. -- now that I think about it, I probably did feel the way he felt when he met Faulkner. After hearing him speak, I hung back and didn't approach him though others did. It was enough. It was over 20 years ago, though, so perhaps now if it could happen, I would try to speak with him.

As to the 2nd point, K.D., my son's friend (in his 20s) is a big fan of WP's and has and is reading his books. I'd like to think I'm one reason he started doing so. ;)


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly Is this an autobiography disguised as a novel?


K.D. Absolutely Not sure. I surfed Wiki and other reviews and there is no mention about this being a semi-autobiography. For one, Percy was not an ex-Korean soldier. But Percy married late. He finished his medical studies first.


K.D. Absolutely a kid of our own? a book? a tree?


message 10: by K.D. (new) - rated it 3 stars

K.D. Absolutely Yes and I thank you for that.

But I also measure it by the length of time that it will take me to forget about the book. If I remember the story in my deathbed, it is my certification that I read and liked the book well.


Judith K.D. wrote: "Yes and I thank you for that.

But I also measure it by the length of time that it will take me to forget about the book. If I remember the story in my deathbed, it is my certification that I rea..."


You rock, K.D.!


message 12: by Regine (new) - added it

Regine Sounds exciting K.D. I'm putting this on my "to read" shelf.


Teresa K.D. wrote: "Not sure. I surfed Wiki and other reviews and there is no mention about this being a semi-autobiography. For one, Percy was not an ex-Korean soldier. But Percy married late. He finished his medical..."

I would say an emphatic no as to this being an autobiography disguised as a novel -- except for what happens to any novelist, of course, as far as their life experiences get melded into their fictional works. It's been said that the character of Aunt Emily was greatly influenced by Percy's Uncle Will, who raised him and his brothers after the death of their mother.


message 14: by K.D. (new) - rated it 3 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Judith! :)

Yes, Regine, this is a good read. Not as profound and thorough as Rushdie but a quick insightful read nonetheless.

Thanks for the info, T.


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly Paul Elie has an interesting discussion about Percy's Binx Bolling and Flannery O'Connor's Hazel Motes (Wise Blood) being "complementary figures" each professing what she called "a kind of sub-religion which expresses its ultimate concern in images that have not yet broken through to show any recognition of a God who has revealed himself."


message 16: by K.D. (new) - rated it 3 stars

K.D. Absolutely K. Joselito, I should read Wise Blood soon. Thanks!


message 17: by Ryan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ryan Huh, I was not aware that Walker Percy recovered in Saranac Lake. I actually grew up in that town, right down the street from a famous medical research center which studies tuberculosis.


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly That was where President Manuel Quezon died of tuberculosis during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.


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