Walker Percy: The Moviegoer & Other Novels 1961–1971: The Moviegoer / The Last Gentleman / Love in the Ruins (Library of America, 380)

Image of Walker Percy: The Moviegoer & Other Novels 1961-1971 (LOA #380): The Moviegoer / The Last Gentleman / Love in the Ruins (Library of America, 380)
Release Date: 
May 7, 2024
Library of America
1 000
Reviewed by: 

It’s a banner time for serious readers of contemporary American literature, for students of Southern literature, and for anyone who senses a relationship between a reading experience and the tragicomic nature of human pilgrimage. Walker Percy: The Moviegoer & Other Novels 1961–1971 is now in a compact edition published by The Library of America.

Readers who were paying attention in the second half of the 20th century know that Percy stands alongside Flannery O’Connor as one of the great Catholic satirists to explode onto the American literary scene after World War II.

In 1941, Percy received a medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. During his internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York City he contracted tuberculosis working on cadavers and had to spend several years recovering at a sanitorium in the Adirondack Mountains.

Those years transformed him. He left medicine behind for philosophy and fiction. He also converted to Catholicism, producing essays about language and faith. In 1961, at age 45, he published his first novel, The Moviegoer, which won the National Book Award. The Moviegoer seemed to many similar to Camus’ The Stranger but with a Southern accent and sense of humor. Percy followed The Moviegoer with a narrative that combined existential comedy and spiritual yearning with a picaresque journey across the American landscape. In 1971, he published what now seems the prophetic novel Love in the Ruins, an apocalyptic narrative about a country torn and divided.

Paul Elie’s first book, The Life You Save May be Your Own, is an insightful study of the Catholic writers Dorothy Day Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. Elie’s interests and understanding make him a perfect editor for what amounts to three of Percy’s best works of fiction and three novels that demand and deserve a renewed attention and readership.

In his funny and astute acceptance speech for the National Book Award, Percy summed up what he sought to do as a writer: “In short,” he said, “the book attempts a modest restatement of the Judeo-Christian notion that man is more than an organism in an environment, more than an integrated personality, more than a mature and creative individual, as the phrase goes. He is a wayfarer and a pilgrim.”

Walker Percy often described his protagonists as watchers, waiters, listeners. Appropriately enough, perhaps, The Library of America edition of Percy’s first three novels waits for a new generation of pilgrims and readers.