Bram's Reviews > The Moviegoer

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
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's review
Mar 10, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2009
Read in March, 2009

I'm a sucker for books that employ existential musings in a way that feels genuine and unforced; thus, I greatly enjoyed The Moviegoer. It's an ambitious novel for one so slim--it skims many weighty topics, from hedonism (and his better-dressed twin, capitalism), to religion's place in America, to the nature of responsibility (and that of her incubus, apathy), to mental health and paranoia. There is even a nice riff on Salinger where Percy replaces Holden's "phonies" with those who are "dead" in their hollow interpersonal interactions. While I was occasionally disappointed at Percy's hesitation to explore some issues more fully, it is this deft reticence that ultimately provides the book with such poignant and unique flair. In the same way that Bolaño's unconsummated digressions ultimately enhance 2666's wild power, Percy's major flaw may in fact be a great asset.

Just as Nick's reliability as a narrator in The Great Gatsby is at times questionable, Binx's own truthfulness (or at least his self-perception) is occasionally suspect. He professes to be apathetic and lazy despite great success with his financial work, and the only thing that motivates him more urgently than his day-job is his (highly successful) womanizing career. He goes on and on about his metaphysical "search" and listens faithfully to religious broadcasts while concurrently claiming an inability to consider questions about God, existence, or the relevance of such questions even if the answers are in favor of belief. And while maintaining that his actions come only from selfish impulse, Binx is exceptionally generous with those whose needs he can, at least temporarily, fulfill (i.e. Kate, Lonnie, and even Aunt Emily). In the end these contradictions serve primarily to accentuate Binx's Dostoevskyan duality--and, therefore, his humanity.

Despite the absence of any inner resolutions for the lead characters, Percy still manages to provide a modestly uplifting message via his unrelenting focus on the malaise associated with "everydayness". It is this heightened perception of the malaise that ultimately allows one to at least recognize the road that can lead to despair--to emotional and moral flaccidity. As the novel's epigraph, quoting Kierkegaard, explains: "the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair." Awareness, then, is the first step toward the possibility of joy and freedom.
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Reading Progress

03/10/2009 page 6
03/12/2009 page 46
19.01% "Really enjoying this so far--Percy loves to mention people and events before he explains them, which has kept me pleasantly off-balance."
03/23/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Brad (new)

Brad Dostoevsky and Salinger references in the same review tell me this is a book I need to read. Good stuff, Bram.

message 2: by Bram (last edited May 26, 2009 08:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks Brad! I've heard really good things about Love in the Ruins as well. The Moviegoer convinced me that Walker Percy is underrated as far as 20th century American novelists go.

message 3: by Daniel (last edited Jun 03, 2009 09:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Daniel Great review. Just one thought: I don't know that I'd characterize "This I Believe," the radio show Binx listens to, as a religious broadcast. If NPR's revival of the "This I Believe" format is any guide, the broadcast is more just people, from the average to the famous, describing the principles that guide their lives. On a side note, Binx's half-completed take-down of the format in "The Moviegoer" is pretty damned funny.

message 4: by Bram (last edited Jun 03, 2009 09:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks Daniel--I'm not familiar with the radio program outside of the book, and it's possible that I misconstrued it as a religious broadcast due to sloppy/inadequate reading. Have you read anything else by Walker Percy?

Daniel This is the only Percy I've read so far, but am interested in reading others. Recommendations?

As for Vonnegut, which one did you read and hate? That may determine what, if anything, is wrong with you.

brian   ditto on bruenning's recommend.
lost in the cosmos.

message 7: by Bram (last edited Jan 07, 2010 10:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks, Jon. I think I'll have to reread the ending to reassess...I can't seem to remember much in the way of resolution (probably just slipped under the radar).

I definitely want to check out more Percy, so I'll go with Cosmos next.

message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 07, 2010 09:17PM) (new)

Aw, Binx. I loved him. More than that Kate.

Bill Good review. You expressed much more eloquently what I was trying to say about the book.

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