Showing 1 - 7 of 7 annotations associated with Percy, Walker
- Wear, Delese
First published in 1971 and subtitled, The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, the novel is a satire of the limits of technology, the medicalization of the human spirit, and the trivializing tendencies of 20th century medical science. Dr. Tom More is an "impaired" psychiatrist: an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a half-hearted clinician. He develops the lapsometer, a kind of stethoscope of the human spirit with which he plans to cure humankind’s spiritual illnesses. Living daily with the contempt of his colleagues, he tries to prove himself and runs into all kinds of mischief, allowing the author to spoof the ills of medicine as it is practiced today.
- Sirridge, Marjorie
This book is composed of a series of essays written by Dr. Percy over a period of twenty years from 1954 to 1975. All have been published in journals except the last one, "A Theory of Language." The first one was written before his first novel, The Moviegoer, was published. These all reflect his recurring interest in the nature of human communication.
The first essay, "The Delta Factor," is perhaps the easiest to understand. It has a long subtitle: "How I Discovered the Delta Factor Sitting at my Desk One Summer Day in Louisiana in the 1950's Thinking About an Event in the Life of Helen Keller on Another Summer Day in Alabama in 1887." Percy asks why man feels so sad in the twentieth century; he goes on to state that this book is about two things: man's strange behavior, and man's strange gift of language and how understanding the latter might help understanding of the former.
Percy's view is that man's singular asset, which differentiates him from animals, is language. His interest in language and how children acquire language is almost certainly related to the fact that one of his daughters is deaf, hence also his interest in Helen Keller. Subsequent essays are further approaches to these questions, including the importance of symbolization as an essential act of the mind and a basic human need.
The essay, "The Message in the Bottle" is built around the supposition that a man who is a castaway on an island and has no memory of his past life finds on the shore a series of bottles which contain messages. The man, who has become a useful member of the island community, must decide which messages appear to state empirical facts and which seem to refer to the nature of reality. Dr. Percy sees that the messages can be in some ways like the news of the Christian faith. This fits with his own personal way of dealing with a feeling of alienation by turning to religion. He sees belief in one of the theistic historical religions as a way to redeem man from the catastrophe which has overtaken him. He describes not only himself but also man as a castaway who can recognize his need and have hope that some message might relieve his predicament.
The book begins with a "Twenty Question Multiple Choice Self-Help Quiz." Each question is actually a short chapter. For example, the first chapter deals with the "amnesic self" and asks why amnesia is a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas. Other chapters deal with the nowhere self, the fearful self, the promiscuous self, and so forth.
The second part of the book is an essay on the nature of the self, complete with numerous diagrams and arrows. The third section presents discussions of various manifestations of the self as transcendent, orbiting, exempted, lonely, and demoniac. The last part is called "A Space Odyssey" and is captioned "What to do if there is no man Friday out there and we really are alone?"
Obviously, this summary says virtually nothing about what the book is about. Suffice it to say that Percy brings his playful humor to the central existential question of human meaning and he presents it in the form of a self-help manual.
- Martinez, Richard
Dr. Tom More, from Love in the Ruins (see this database), now middle-aged, returns to Feliciana after spending two years in prison for selling prescriptions of Dalmane and Desoxyn at a truckstop. On his return to his psychiatric practice, More observes that two of his former patients are acting strangely. In his own words: "In each there has occurred a sloughing away of the old terrors, worries, rages, a shedding of guilt like last year's snakeskin, and in its place is a mild fond vacancy, a species of unfocused animal good spirits." (21)
More observes that his wife Ellen and his children have also undergone some mysterious personality change. More, the scientist-physician, with the help of his cousin Dr. Lucy Lipscomb, launches a search for the cause of these and other observations. More and Lucy discover that John Van Dorn, head of the computer division of the nearby Grand Mer nuclear power plant and Dr. Bob Comeaux, director of the Quality-of-Life Division of the Federal Complex overseeing euthanasia programs, are involved in social engineering, releasing Heavy Sodium into the water supply to "improve" the social welfare.
Throughout the novel, Dr. Tom More returns several times to evaluate and talk with Father Rinaldo Smith, a parish priest who has exiled himself to a firetower overlooking the vast pine forest of Feliciana. More has been asked by Comeaux, who sits on the probationary board overseeing More's return to practice, to declare Father Smith crazy, so that Comeaux can take over Father Smith's hospice and put it to better use. The conversations between More and Father Smith contain the philosophic and moral themes that support the plot and action of the novel.
Will Barrett, the protagonist of The Last Gentleman (see this database), returns in this novel, having retired early from a lucrative law practice. A widower, he lives in an exclusive North Carolina suburb where he has become "the world's most accomplished golf amateur."
Suddenly, his golf game turns sour and "hidden memories" pop up. Among these memories is the truth about his father's suicide: when Will was 12, his father killed himself in a "hunting accident," but had also tried to kill Will to "protect" him from an inauthentic existence. While Will is struggling with his own "death in life," he meets Allison, a neurotic 20 year old woman who has escaped from a mental hospital and is living in an abandoned greenhouse on some property that she has inherited.
Other characters include Father Weatherbee, a decrepit old Catholic priest who was once a missionary in Mindanao, and Jack Curl, a charmingly smooth Episcopal priest, who is trying to establish affluent "love communities" in North Carolina. Will decides to challenge God, "I shall go into a desert place and wait for God to give a sign. If no sign is forthcoming, I shall die . . . . " Ultimately, he finds his "sign" in Allison; they choose life, fall in love, and get married.
Williston (Will) Barnett, the damaged son of an old Southern family, is the protagonist of this rambling, picaresque novel. While living in New York, Will meets Kitty McVaught, a young Alabama woman whose father owns the world's largest Chevrolet agency. Will, who suffers from bouts of amnesia and fugue states, follows Kitty back to Alabama and meets her family, including her mother, who believes the South lost the Civil War as a result of a Jewish conspiracy; her older brother Sutter, a failed physician and self-proclaimed pornographer; her sister Val, a devoted Roman Catholic who works among the poor black children; and a 16 year old brother Jamie, who is terminally ill.
Will's mission in this novel is to discover why his father committed suicide when Will was 12 years old, and thereby achieve some healing of his own memories, but most of the action in the novel involves various members of the McVaught family, especially Sutter and Val, who represent the warfare between animal desire (Sutter) and angelic spirit (Val) in this fallen world. The novel's climactic scene takes place in Santa Fe, where Jamie undergoes a deathbed conversion. Afterward, Will presumably returns to Alabama to marry Kitty and do something constructive with his life.
John Binkerson ("Binx") Bolling is a young man from a "good" New Orleans family who for some years has devoted himself to money, sex, and watching movies. During Mardi Gras, when the novel begins, he wakes up to the vague feeling that something more is needed in his life.
We meet his Aunt Emily, a Southern noblewoman, and his cousin Kate, who is said to be somewhat unstable since her fiance's death some years earlier; she is currently engaged to the virtually invisible Walter. The action also takes us to the bayous, where Binx visits his remarried (Catholic) mother and her family, including his sickly adolescent stepbrother, Lonnie. (Binx's father died in World War II; Binx, himself, has survived service in the Korean Conflict.)
Subsequently, Binx takes a trip to Chicago with Kate; on the train she offers to have sex with him, but he refuses. Binx and Kate must then respond to Lonnie's unexpected death. In the end Binx decides to give up his business as a bond dealer and go to medical school, and he and Kate decide to marry.