The Moviegoer: A Novel (FSG Classics)

The Moviegoer: A Novel (FSG Classics)

Posted by 23horc4o | Published 7 months ago

With 494 ratings

By: Walker Percy and Paul Elie

Purchased At: $3.99 (66 used & new offers)

Winner of the 1962 National Book Award and one of Time magazine’s 100 Best English-Language Novels, Walker Percy’s debut The Moviegoer is an American masterpiece and a classic of Southern literature. Insightful, romantic, and humorous, it is the story of a young man’s search for meaning amid a shallow consumerist landscape.

Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker, fills his days with movies and casual sex. His life offers him nothing worth retaining; what he treasures are scenes from The Third Man or Stagecoach, not the personal experiences he knows other people hold dear. On the cusp of turning thirty, however, something changes: At Mardi Gras, he embarks on a quest for some form of authentic experience. The consequences of Binx’s quest, on both himself and his unstable cousin Kate, prove outrageous, absurd, moving, and indelible.

Featuring an afterword by Paul Elie, this new edition of The Moviegoer cements Walker Percy’s place as a giant of American literature.

Preface: I am millennial and am not the best at appreciating or digesting literature, however, I am trying to read more and get better at it. For this reason, I think this was a great book. It was compelling to read for me because of the slight mystery of it all and the "search". I think it alludes well the "religious" sense we all have no matter the creed and a desire for truth. Although at the end of the book I couldn't help but ask myself "what just happened?". And at first I was disagreeable at best to the question, but I'm glad the book left me with that question and forced me to think about the characters and their lives. I would recommend this book to people who like Flannery O'Connor and whereas the main themes aren't always the most clear, and deeper thinking needs to go on in order to appreciate and understand the novel.

- Anonymous

I like the realism of emotions, from joy to despair, that Percy explores in this book about a Southern man and his family. (His first novel, and it won the National Book Award.) The existentialist world view from his era, the late fifties, feels appropriate for today's world. There's wonderful dialogue between the characters about their feelings and ideas, and sharp, minute observations of other people and their relationships. Very satisfying book.

- Anonymous

I can't overemphasize the impact this book has had on my life, intellectually and personally. In college I read in for two courses, one on religion and modern literature, and one on politics. I was so taken by Percy's meticulous and stark rendition of Binx Bolling's New Orleans that I went there to visit 30+ years ago and never left.

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.

- Anonymous

With all its accolades upon publication (1961) and subsequently, a less-than-five star rating of "The Moviegoer" is probably heretical. I reserve 5 stars for greatness in its area of enterprise. "The Moviegoer" strikes me as a solid, very good 4-star. The novel has little plot to speak of. Essentially it's a character study of a young stockbroker who's been traumatized by the Korean War and disillusioned by the fantasies of New Orleans in the '50s and '60s. Binx Bolling is a card-carrying member of his own Lost Generation, aimlessly bouncing from one business or family episode to another. For me this made for a tedious read, especially because Binx himself is a stupendously uninteresting character. On the other hand, that's precisely the effect for which the author was striving. In that respect, therefore, the novel is a success in its alienated purposelessness. I made myself read to the end, which is never very satisfying. I can live through my own ennui. Why must I put myself through a fictional character's?

Much of the book's theme may be summed up in these lines: "What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; 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." There now. Doesn't that clarify the matter for you?

I am in no hurry to reread this book. However—and this is a large caveat—"The Moviegoer" put one very fine writer, Walker Percy, on the map, with promise of more to come, which was fulfilled. For that we may be grateful.

- Anonymous

I just finished reading this great novel for the third time because I wanted to begin the year with an experience of something that I knew was great. The last time I read it was just over 14 years ago as part of the preparation for my first (and to date, only) trip to New Orleans. The impression that I've been left with each time that I have read it is that it is one of those singular novels that presents a first person narrator with a very unique perspective and way of viewing reality. It coats every page of the novel and it is so thorough that the character (or the character's creator) even creates his own lexicon for categorizing and flavoring the world in a similar way as the narrators of Kurt Vonnegut's 'Cat's Cradle' and Richard Brautigan's 'In Watermelon Sugar'. We see the world through the lens of Binx Bolling's idiosyncratic and distinct perception.

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.

- Anonymous

This novel, acclaimed at its publication and clearly relished by discerning modern readers, leaves me with a dilemma. All the qualities for which it has been showered with praise: wit, insight, intelligence etc. had little impact on this reader. The lyricism and romance escaped me. Rather, I found an especially unlikeable central character in Binx Bolling, supercilious and shallow, moving in a world bereft of warmth and sincere feeling. The parallel with John Updike in one review seems to me strange. In the Rabbit and Bech novels Updike achieves energy and depth of understanding, as well as so much more authentic feeling, all of which reaches far beyond anything on offer here. This may, perhaps, explain why Percy has made so little impact on this side of the Atlantic in comparison with the finest of his contemporaries.

- Anonymous

Interesting characters giving insight into New Orleans society. there was little action so that the rather lengthy book did get a little boring at times. However in retrospect it was worthwhile persevering.

- Anonymous

An interesting book, existentialist but also hopeful, which is rare in my experience. Well written, an objective stance taken but with a humanist slant, and quite touching. A good window onto its era, and the expiring previous social paradigm of Southern USA. A gem.

- Anonymous

Primera novela que leo del autor. Esta novela está considerada por muchos como un clásico de la literatura americana contemporánea. Ambientada en los parajes sureños de Louisiana, ofrece una visión de esa región y sus costumbres. El libro relata las andanzas y tejemanejes de un hombre que busca su sitio en la vida. Un libro llamativo y con pasajes de profundo interés por lo que a mi entender son enfoques diferentes de situaciones puntuales contidianas. Recomendable.

- Anonymous

The characters were well drawn with a unique perspective on mental illness and PTSD. The writing draws you in to the South and all its foibles and class distinctions. I found it dragged at times but overall, I enjoyed this book.

- Anonymous

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