A Reader Writes!

“I’m in a bit of dry spell as far as reading goes. I’m thinking about taking up Walker Percy again. I’ve read the Moviegoer (liked it, but found it to be a bit obscure) and once started the Last Gentleman. When I started LG, I was a bit burned out on the post-modern “what is wrong with man” genre, and set it aside. Fast forward a two or three years, and I never went back to it.

Everyone seems to have an opinion as to where one should start with Percy. Given your literary-street cred, I’m asking you – LG, or Love in the Runis? Any other suggestions? “

Dear Reader,
I’ve said it before – flattery will get you everywhere. “Literary street-cred,” indeed. If you’re burned out on “what’s wrong with man?” you’re going to have trouble with rather a bit of Percy – it was his stock in trade, the question he spent his life answering. (I really enjoyed the approach he took in Lost in the Cosmos – though it’s not a novel.) This was perhaps most evident in Last Gentleman and The Second Coming – the latter of which can be slow going, despite its not inconsiderable charms (Allison).

For the very finest in zany laff riots, go with Love in the Ruins. Yes, the racial stuff is a bit dated, but the book has some pure, pure comedy – “Father Kev Kevin sitting at the vaginal console, reading his Commonweal” – oh, my, yes. A wonderful story. Gets my vote. Some think it his finest work.

Lancelot is a dark, dark book – a detective story of sorts – still asking “what’s wrong with man” but venturing into more violent territory. Probably not the place to start.

The Thanatos Syndrome – the one you can find in most used bookstores – was a favorite of literary biographer Paul Elie. It’s another mystery/thriller of sorts, but much lighter in tone and more straightforward in the telling. It’s the sequel to Love in the Ruins – of sorts. Read Love then this, then get back to us with a report.


  1. Adam DeVille says

    I also appreciate your recommendations. I just finished Robert Coles’s literary study of Percy (to call it a ‘literary biography’ is misleading in my opinion, as the biographical details are scant indeed) and was a bit put off by the ‘what’s wrong with man’ theme that comes through so prominently in Percy. But I’ll look for *Love in the Ruins* and read it. It seems clear that Percy was influenced in that title and book (by your description) by, of course, Waugh, who published a short novella in 1953, *Love Among the Ruins*, a bitingly satirical (and not a little prescient) work about socialist England bringing in professional bureaucrats in the Ministry of Euthanasia.

  2. And a reader replies..Love in the Ruins it is, or will be, once I can pick up a copy. Its not that I don’t care for the theme of “what’s wrong with modern man,” just that it’s best taken in moderation. Otherwise, I start drinking far more than I already do and start having a hard time getting out of bed.

    So, aside from outing me, you give me homework?


  3. Plato's Stepchild says

    There is something eerie about contemplating a reread of The Moviegoer – set in New Orleans – with what we are witnessing unfold.


  4. Matthew Lickona says

    Yes there is.

  5. Surprised you didn’t mention- I’m blanking on the title- the one set in North Carolina with the lead character Will Barrett: The Last Coming? The Final Coming? I’t a personal fave.

  6. Matthew Lickona says

    Oh, but I did. Will Barrett appears first in The Last Gentleman, and second in The Second Coming. As I said in the post, it can be slow going – meaning, the writing is perhaps Percy’s densest. And for a person who doesn’t want to dwell overmuch on the “What’s wrong with modern man?” question, it’s not the right book – “what’s wrong” is the whole point of that one. As I also said, the book has fabulous aspects – Allison is absolutely unforgettable – but it wasn’t the right choice for this particular reader.

  7. Jonathan Potter says

    Matthew: If your advisee picked up Love in the Ruins, he might be interested in the group read that is about to begin on Percy-L.

  8. Matthew and the esteemed Mr. Potter:

    First, yes, I have obtained a copy of Love in the Ruins, have read it, finished it, enjoyed it and experienced a renewed appreciation of bourbon. (Why is it that those Bible-thumping Southerners make such damn fine whiskey? Discuss.) Thanks for the recommendation – a smashing good read. And the “racial stuff” doesn’t seem so dated in light of Katrina. Rather, it seems oddly releveant.

    I’m going to try and get into the discussion referenced by Mr. Potter, but I’m not sure I have the time. My wife is now reading it – looking forward to discussing it with her. She’s read more Percy than I have, so it will be interesting to hear her take.

    Mr. Potter – this last note is for you. I’m not so sure what you’re up to on your blog (now gluten free) but I love it. Keep up the good work.

    Adios muchachos,


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