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The Moviegoer Paperback – April 14, 1998
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This elegantly written account of a young man's search for signs of purpose in the universe is one of the great existential texts of the postwar era and is really funny besides. Binx Bolling, inveterate cinemaphile, contemplative rake and man of the periphery, tries hedonism and tries doing the right thing, but ultimately finds redemption (or at least the prospect of it) by taking a leap of faith and quite literally embracing what only seems irrational. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In a gentle Southern accent narrator Christopher Hurt delivers the story with a slow, lazy lilt which suits the text and evokes a pervading spiritual emptiness. --AudioFile
Clothed in originality, intelligence, and a fierce regard for man's fate. . . .Percy has a rare talent for making his people look and sound as though they were being seen and heard for the first time by anyone. --Time
Mr. Percy is a breathtakingly brilliant writer.--New York Times Book Review
A brilliant novel. . .Percy touches the rim of so many human mysteries. --Harper's --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The observations in the first third of the book are priceless. The second third seemed to become less of an interior narrative, more plot. I found the resolution deep, beautiful. A memorable, meaningful book.
This book covers themes of ennui, despair, self and selflessness, cultural decline, the promise and failure of religion -- but does so in a vividly personal style. This is a book to savor.
Binx sprinkles his narrative with cinematic references, naturally, and uses the personas of movie stars to interpret the world around him. These analogies are more meaningful when one is familiar with the actors he is referencing. Even when the reader isn't, however, the analogy somehow makes sense or at least can understand why the moment is significant to Binx. One could even assemble the titles of all the movies he sees or cites throughout the novel and conduct a Binx Bolling Moviegoing Festival.
On the surface, not a great deal occurs externally in the novel. It takes place the week of Mardi Gras on the eve of Binx's 30th birthday. Reaching the age of 30 is a pivotal milestone in the life of a man, signifying a new stage of manhood and an age of stock-taking. Binx's Aunt Emily certainly sees it that way and he knows that she would like him to fulfill his deceased father's dream of his son going to medical school. Initially, however, she summons him because she is concerned about her stepdaughter Kate, who was traumatized by the death of her fiancée in a car accident and whose mood swings and reliance on pills are escalating to possibly disastrous proportions. She wants Binx to provide guidance and stability for Kate, especially at this particularly fragile time.
Binx is an odd choice of one to turn to for stability. He is a stockbroker who spends most of his free time going to movies and pursuing romance with each of his successive secretaries. When he is not doing that he is engaged in what he calls the search. According to Binx, "the search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life." Binx wants to be delivered from the mundane qualities of a routinized life, in which he is fully entrenched. He has a regular work schedule. He tunes in faithfully to the radio show "This I Believe" every night. He goes through the motions of middle class existence and yet through all of it he seeks the search not so much for reaching the specific goal or destination as because it is an alternative to not seeking, which he sees as surrendering to despair.
Among Binx's preoccupations along the course of the Search are repetitions and rotations. A repetition Binx defines as "the reenactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which as lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle." For example, he cites an ad in a magazine for Nivea Creme and recalls that he saw the same ad twenty years ago in a magazine on his father's desk. The events of the intervening twenty years were neutralized because Nivea Creme was exactly as it was before.
A rotation is "the experiencing of the new beyond the expectation of the experiencing of the new. For example, taking one's first trip to Taxco would not be a rotation, or no more than a very ordinary rotation; but getting lost on the way and discovering a hidden value would be." As long as Binx experiences these epiphanies he doesn't surrender to what he refers to as the malaise.
Binx pursues his newest secretary and they become amorous on a trip to the beach but she unequivocally establishes boundaries between them, one being a young man who will become her fiancée. Meanwhile, Binx accompanies Kate on her mental rollercoaster and proposes marriage. She dismisses him by emphasizing that she would not want her mental instability to ruin such a union but readdresses the subject later and agrees to the possibility that if he guides her and tells her what to do she will trust his guidance and that will provide a foundation for stability. He impulsively asks her to join him on a business trip to Chicago and she agrees. She has difficulties but Binx manages to guide her through the minefield until his aunt catches up with them and chastises him for taking her with him without informing anyone what had become of her, taking full advantage of the opportunity to deliver her 'what are you going to do with your life' lecture and asking him what he truly believes. Binx cannot answer.
At the novel's conclusion, Binx appears to accommodate both the expectations of society (and Aunt Emily) as well as the compulsions of his Search. We do not know how successful he and Kate will be but at least the collective pursuit of their individual searches may prevent succumbing to the depths of the malaise.
Binx's existential search recalls another fictional searcher, the narrator of Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time.' Marcel searches for lost time and occasionally finds it in the taste of a madeleine. Binx searches not for a holy grail but for the novelty of living. 'The Moviegoer' is similar in its preoccupation with conventional suburban culture to John Cheever's stories of quietly desperate New York businessmen and Richard Yates' tragic 'Revolutionary Road' (finalist for the 1962 National Book Award that 'The Moviegoer' won). Percy contributes the Old South version of this lifestyle and in turn influenced Richard Ford's 'The Sportswriter'.
'The Moviegoer' is, however, in a class by itself. In a sense it is a celebration of the hidden misfit. Binx is perhaps more subversive than most political radicals because he is outwardly a conformist, living a conventional life, observing the rituals of the middle class life and fulfilling society's expectations. Beneath the conservative exterior lurks a strange eccentric moviegoer categorizing the world, undergoing a search as existential as any Kafkaesque or Dostoevskian antihero.
"What is the nature of the search? you ask.
Really it is very simply, 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. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn't miss a trick.
To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. (p.13)
Seriously. Not in an ironic kind of way or in a light reading to talk about at the cantina kind of way. In an "every day, a little bit more of a precious time slips away - already sad about Fall" kind of way.
Each exquisite word of this book brings comfort and pain, as relevant today as it must have been fifty years ago. Some things are gone forever. New Orleans will never be what it was. And it's hard to think of stock brokering as sedate in a post-nine-to-five global economy. But where we've come since that time is precisely what makes this book so important today. We are so tired AND so overstimulated that mere movies lack the magic necessary to lift the malaise. Cultural crises can't even do it, not now that our own towers have fallen. But Walker Percy saw it coming from a long way off. That getting and spending thing that Wordsworth went on about goes farther than laying waste our powers: it splits us from ourselves, turns our insides to dust.
And some of us are mired in it, waking fitfully to vote, or write letters to the editor, or visit an elder. This book lifts those scales a bit, like a breeze on a beach umbrella. And it will stay with you, like the memory of that breeze on your cheek.
I know this. I bought and read The Moviegoer first in 1983. I gave it away after a couple of years. I ordered a new copy today, because it's a humid day that smells of honeysuckle, and I cannot get this book out of my head.