A sentence from The Moviegoer that is reason enough to follow along with the Times

The opening paragraph of The Moviegoer is pretty good. One thing that’s great about it is how well Percy nails the nephew/aunt relationship, although in this particular category Wodehouse will always be unmatched. The last sentence of the paragraph has always given me a little bit of trouble, specifically the last half of that last sentence: “yet I confess I do not find the prospect altogether unpleasant.” It just seems a little uptight to me. He doesn’t use contractions, which is okay, I guess, but that “altogether unpleasant” makes me think of a nerd with his Dickies pulled halfway up to his chest, rather than the debonair stockbroker who emerges in the pages that follow.

My own opinion is that Percy doesn’t really get going until the second paragraph:

I remember when my older brother Scott died of pneumonia. I was eight years old. My aunt had charge of me and she took me for a walk behind the hospital. It was a interesting street. On one side were the power plant and blowers and incinerator of the hospital, all humming and blowing out a hot meaty smell. On the other side was a row of Negro houses. Children and old folks and dogs sat on the porches watching us. I noticed with pleasure that Aunt Emily seemed to have all the time in the world and was willing to talk about anything I wanted to talk about. Something extraordinary had happened all right. We walked slowly in step. “Jack,” she said, squeezing me tight and smiling at the Negro shacks, “you and I have always been good buddies, haven’t we?” “Yes ma’am.” My heart gave a big pump and the back of my neck prickled like a dog’s “I’ve got bad news for you, son.” She squeezed me tighter than ever. “Scotty is dead. Now it’s all up to you. It’s going to be difficult for you but I know you’re going to act like a soldier.” This was true. I could easily act like a soldier. Was that all I had to do?

The sentence I’m specifically thinking of is number 5, and the particular phrase I like is “hot meaty smell”, and the exact word I like so much is the adjective “meaty”. Meaty. Out of a hospital: that is absolutely disgusting. Percy is good with smells: the “zoo smell” of Central Park in The Last Gentleman, the smell of gunpowder in The Second Coming, and others that don’t come to mind as easily. There are a lot of other great things going on here – the back of his neck prickling like a dog’s (why like a dog’s, exactly?), the charitable disposition of his aunt, and especially the last line, “Was that all I had to do?” I can think of no other sentence that expresses so well the simultaneous naivete and confoundment felt by every child confronted with death for the first time, especially by way a solicitous adult. And to say that Percy doesn’t really get going until the second paragraph isn’t to dismiss the importance of the first, or the simple fact that the second builds on the first – particularly with regard to the Aunt.

It’s just a great opening.

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