- Paperback: 241 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International ed edition (April 14, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375701966
- ISBN-13: 978-0375701962
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 305 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Moviegoer Paperback – April 14, 1998
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From the Inside Flap
Winner of the 1961 National Book Award
The dazzling novel that established Walker Percy as one of the major voices in Southern
literature is now available for the first time in Vintage paperback.
"The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with
the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he
cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies
himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the
"treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks
on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and
sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans' French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich
in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.
From the Back Cover
"Mr. Percy is a brethtakingly brilliant writer." --The New York Times Book Review
"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
"A brilliant novel. . . . Percy touches the rim of so many human mysteries." --Harper's
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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.
You read The Moviegoer for comfort - you are reassured searching is common. But, it doesn't provide you with the answer to your search - it tries to get you to give up. As unattractive as Binx Bolling is to you, your search is that unattractive to others.
Is Binx's search real or is it an excuse? He could be tackling the hardest question or he could be using it as an excuse for his movie going and secretary chasing. The existential crisis is a perfect trap. The first step is the easiest - realizing many people are fooled into thinking their lives have meaning. Binx is quick to rejects other's beliefs - southern aristocracy or religion. Then the trap: He can deconstruct anything, but he has nothing to replace it with. If you can't find anything meaningful to do, you might as well enjoy a meaningless diversion.
So what is the answer to the search? Frankl flips the question around. "What can you expect from life?" becomes "What does life expect from you?" It is a clever way of saying quite the search; do work, help your fellow man. But life is generally good and easy, so it is easy to convince yourself that life expects very little.
Maybe the answer lies in relationships. Does the chaos of his relationships with his aunt and Kate prevent him from growth. Has being manipulated for so long prevented Binx from forming caring relationship. You get of glimpse of a human, caring Binx. As he cares for his step brothers and sisters you think there may be hope for him.
Binx's primary escape are movies. Today he would escape online. It is interesting to think about the differences. Binx's is attracted to the cinetography of movies - everything more beautiful, loves more intense, and the meaning is clear. The internet offers a different escape than movies. The internet lacks the script and direction of movies, but closer resembles reality and offers almost tactile fantasies - that your internet millions are just waiting for you.
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.