The Moviegoer is one of an assortment of books that I read in my early 20s and of which I retained basically no memory. Lately I’ve made a point of revisiting these books to get a sense of what I missed the first time. In some cases ,such as One Hundred Years of Solitude, I found myself surprised that they left so little an impression at the time. In the Moviegoer’s case, I’m less shocked.
The story, such as it is, concerns a New Orleans stockbroker named Jack “Binx” Bolling, the eponymous Moviegoer, as he passes an indeterminate period of time, primarily in the company of one of two women: his secretary, Sharon, a young Southern girl who has recently moved to the city; and his cousin, Kate, for whom he retains a complex romantic affection that is not exactly reciprocated.
There’s really not much more to say in terms of plot. The novel belongs to one of the more ponderous sub-genres of literary fiction, in which a well-to-do male protagonist in his early middle age undergoes some form of slumming—financial or, as in BInx’s case, intellectual—and Thinks Big Thoughts. It’s not a genre that appeals to me, as I prefer books that hew more towards story or style, and don’t park themselves so squarely in the realm of pure philosophy. It’s an aesthetic preference, and as such not a reflection of the book’s quality or lack thereof, but ti doesn’t change the fact that the story left me pretty cold.
The prose is strong for the most part, with rich imagery and a compelling voice. Percy pulls off a neat trick by having me buy Binx as a character despite the fact that no human being would really talk the way he talks. It’s a pet peeve of mine when authors select a first-person perspective and then write in a grandiloquent style that would have been much better suited to a third-person narrator, and while this decision still rankled on occasion, Percy gets away with it better than some (I’ve had to put down more than one book unfinished for that very reason).
Lastly, I can’t think of The Moviegoer or Walker Percy without acknowledging that he is the person who is second-most responsible for the publication of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (the most responsible person being Toole’s own mother). That buys an awful lot of good will from me, but it also invites an inevitable comparison between the two works, and in any match with Dunces, the opponent is going to come up short.