While initially enjoying The Moviegoer, it was akin to realizing you’ve been chatting a little too long with someone you soon understand you don’t have much to say to. The writing was rather good, but it was as if Percy jotted down his mind’s wanderings and lost his focus. Understanding that the author was heavily influenced by his existential readings, this novel just didn’t quite know what it wanted to be and didn’t address those profound questions of life.
Set in New Orleans, The Moviegoer introduces Binx Bolling and his extended southern families. Binx is supposedly on a search…for what, is never quite clear. Sadly, we never quite connect to this lonely character who rambles on later in the book addressing the mysterious Rory (supposedly the actor Rory Calhoun). There is surprisingly little reference to movies other than to name the theater and an occasional actor and c’mon, this place is known for its food, drink and music and there was not much about any of it.
The narrator, John Bickerson Bolling/Jack/Binx is a stockbroker working in late 1950’s New Orleans and nearing his 30th birthday. Injured in the (unnamed Korean) war, he lacks purpose and spends his free time visiting family, dating and moviegoing. Hoping for more from this lackadaisical man proved disappointing. Adding to the frustration were the hints of his true essence that are never revealed as if Percy were holding out on us.
Kate Cutrer is Binx’s unstable cousin. A fatal automobile accident takes away her fiance which is the supposed catalyst for her mental descent. Walker’s mother died in a similar accident, suspected as a suicide so the personal references are clear as a bell as are Binx’s dislike of cars. Kate could have been a more interesting character if she weren’t so odd, although probably a realistic portrayal. There just wasn’t enough substance here to either like or dislike this character.
Aunt Emily, Kate’s stepmother is the stoic southern lady. While strong and intelligent, her pretentious actions made her rather unlikable. Perhaps more details would have helped, but they were lacking.
To tell the absolute truth, I’ve always been slightly embarrassed in Walter’s company. Whenever I’m with him, I feel the stretch of the old tightrope, the necessity of living up to the friendship of friendships, of cultivating an intimacy beyond words. The fact is we have little to say to each other. There is only this thick sympathetic silence between us. We are comrades, true, but somewhat embarrassed comrades. It is probably my fault. For years now I have had no friends. I spend my entire time working, making money, going to movies and seeking the company of women.
I have discovered that most people have no one to talk to, no one, that is, who really wants to listen. When it does at last dawn on a man that you really want to hear about his business, the look that comes over his face is something to see. Do not misunderstand me. I am no do-gooding Jose Ferrer going around with a little whistle to make people happy. Such do-gooders do not really want to listen, are not really selfish like me; the are being nice fellows and boring themselves to death, and their listeners are not really cheered up. Show me a nice Jose cheering up an old lady and I’ll show you two people existing in despair.
I’ve the sense that Mr. Percy would be a charming southern gentleman. His obviously intimate knowledge of New Orleans would make for interesting conversation where I’d love to ask more about his life there. No fan of existentialism, I’d steer clear of Kierkegaard and Sartre references and perhaps discuss his early years in Alabama and Mississippi.
My rating for The Moviegoer is a 7 out of 10.
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