The Moviegoer by Walker Percy


Audiobook.  Binx Bolling is the narrator of this novel published in 1960; he tells us in a most charming way about his life and views.  He is a successful 30 year old man who lives in Gentilly, a suburb of New Orleans, chosen for its ordinariness. 

It is a pleasure to carry out the duties of a citizen and to receive in return a receipt or a neat styrene card with one's name on it, certifying, so to speak, one's right to exist.  What satisfaction I take in appearing the first day to get my auto tag.  I subscribe to Consumer Reports and as a consequence I own a first class television, an all but silent air conditioner, and a very long-lasting deoderant.  My armpits never stink.  I pay attention to all spot announcements on the radio about mental health, the seven signs of cancer, and safe driving….

Occasionally he steps out of his usual pattern to think about "the search," which is "what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."  He hesitates to say the search is about God because that would amount to setting himself a goal which everyone else has reached and therefore has no interest in.  "Who wants to be dead last among 180 million Americans, for as everyone knows the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists or agnostics which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker."  He wonders then, whether he is a hundred miles ahead of his fellow citizens or a hundred miles behind them.  He is a moviegoer because he believes the making of movies is motivated by "the search," although the moviemakers always fail.

He takes pleasure in going for a drive to the beach with the succession of secretaries who work for him.  His first car was a sedan but he found that the pleasure of this drive turned to malaise.  His sporty little MG helped with this problem, but the accident on one of the trips was the best insurance against the dreaded malaise.

There is a bit of a narrative arc, including a business trip to Chicago.  He is quite unhappy about having to go there as taking in the vibrations of a new place is so draining.  He eventually understands that the wind and the space are the "genie soul" of Chicago.  The South, as a mindset, is much more comfortable to him. 

What a smart and witty book this is but the malaise is just around the corner.

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