by Walker Percy
Alfred A. Knopf, 1961
Walker Percy is a southern writer, now deceased, and The Moviegoer is his debut novel. It is considered by some to be a sort of Catcher in the Rye for adults. This book has been on my best fiction list for years, but I read it again recently to make sure it really belongs there. (I’ve read many other great novels since.) The Moviegoer still ranks high for me, mainly because of Percy’s unique style and use of language.
I don’t claim to entirely understand the novel; some of it is quite cryptic to me. Jack Bolling, a New Orleans stockbroker who is approaching thirty years old, is bored and adrift in his empty life. He is somewhat intimidated by his domineering, aristocratic aunt and has a rather ill-defined relationship with his cousin Kate, who suffers from depression and anxiety. He finds escape in movies and in dating a parade of secretaries at his firm, but he is dissatisfied with the emptiness of American society at the dawn of the 1960s. (I wonder what he would think of American society today!)
He embarks on a “search” for greater meaning but seems to lack commitment and to be continually distracted from his search. The brilliance of the novel, though, is the frequent insightful observations Percy gives us (through his main character) regarding the human condition. Bolling certainly has an unconventional way of looking at things, and of articulating his views.
Jack Bolling undergoes no particular transformation in the course of the novel – in fact, he all but abandons his search – but the ending finds him in a state of greater acceptance and, in so doing, satisfies the reader. It is safe to say you will never read another novel quite like The Moviegoer.