Posts Tagged ‘Binx Bolling’

I love a book that lingers on the mind long after you’ve reached the last page. In some cases I think this happens because a book is beautifully written and thought provoking. In some cases it simply speaks to your own experience, or to the human condition, so clearly that it makes you, the reader, more human simply by reading it.

The Moviegoer is both. I’d never read Walker Percy and I have to credit the New York Times Sunday Book Review‘s “What I Read That Summer” article, where I read about Walter Isaacson’s meeting his friend’s uncle, Walker Percy, and his discovery of Percy’s books. I checked out The Moviegoer that evening at the library.

Binx Bolling is twenty-nine, a war veteran (Korean, I think) managing a small brokerage office in the family firm in New Orleans, having a string of affairs with a series of secretaries, and going to movies. “It is not a bad life at all,” as he says. He’s on a bus on the way to see his aunt, who has summonsed him to lunch, and checking out a pretty woman seated across the aisle, when he recalls an idea he had earlier: “the search.”  He explains, “The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. . . . To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

If that sounds like Kierkegaard, it should. Percy’s epigraph is from The Sickness Unto Death: “. . . the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair.”  Binx undertakes his search during Mardi Gras and we go along as he promises to look after his mentally fragile cousin Kate, tries half-heartedly to start a new affair, visits his mother and his half-siblings, travels to Chicago for a conference.

I was totally drawn into his existential wanderings, I was in New Orleans (where I’ve never actually been) I could hear the voices of these characters, I ate their lunch. Ok, I didn’t eat their lunch, but you see what I mean? Walker Percy made me Binx Bolling. And he made me more me.

I was trying to figure out what I didn’t like about the last Gibsons’ Book Club selection, The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry. After the meeting, I felt a little churlish for stating my dislike strongly and also a little disappointed that nothing my fellow book club members said changed my mind (which has happened, and I’ve enjoyed, in the past). When I read The Moviegoer I got it.

On Ash Wednesday Binx thinks: “There is only one thing I can do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along a ways in their dark journeys and be handed along, and for good and selfish reasons.” This is the subtle, heartbreaking, tender, tenous, holy mess of life. This is love and faith and doubt and every loss or gain a person can experience. When you’ve drunk in a masterpiece like The Moviegoer you don’t really need words to explain why some “it” books disappoint. You feel it in every cell.

Good books capture what it is to be human. When someone raves about a book and I read it and it doesn’t, in Seamus Heaney’s words, “catch the heart off guard and blow it open,” well, that’s disappointing. I’ll grant that some days, that’s not what I’m after. As my dear friend YeVette says, some days she doesn’t want to think, she just wants a dead body in her book. But when you’re looking for more, give Walker Percy a try. Just be ready for Binx to stay a while after you close the book.

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