Betty Duffy is a prolific and incisive blogger and a mother of five. Her blog profile states the case as follows: “Married with five kids. Life has been handed to me on a platter and I still manage to find fault with it. Except when I don’t.” She has been rereading The Moviegoer from both ends of late, working her way towards the middle. Out of that interesting approach, she generously agreed to contribute the following reflection as part of our celebration of Walker Percy’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of The Moviegoer. She has also recently written about The Moviegoer here.
It’s difficult to measure The Moviegoer at fifty without weighing it against the effects of the new media. As I’ve become a bits and pieces consumer of online information, I have also become a bits and pieces reader of actual books. So I’ve interspersed my reading of Walker Percy with the other books that have found their way to my nightstand.
If Kate Cutrer, the penultimate depressed girl, hugging her knees saying, “I’m scared. Tell me I’ll be ok,” was not a cinematic and literary phenomenon in Percy’s time, she is now. Here she is again, in Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel, sitting on the bathroom floor freaking out while a crowd of worried onlookers wonder what to do about her.
Most of the characters in Percy’s book have a role to play, a role perhaps first modeled on film. Binx woos women in the tradition of “Gregorish Peckorish”-ness. Aunt Emily plays the matriarch of upper-crust liberal values, an archetype echoed in Murial Spark’s Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. When Binx speaks to Kate on the phone, it’s in the litigious, brief way of cops in a film noir.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here we are fifty years later, still playing established roles that give us the words to say and the template for how to be—but with a new, most excellent platform for becoming the stars of our own lives, the internet.
As a writer and reader of personal blogs and Facebook pages, I have noticed that we are all happy housewives, and good Catholics (or bad Catholics as the case may be), or we are tech gurus, or spiritual gurus, or witty quip-writers of some kind or another. Online we play our roles very well, and often with much applause in our comboxes. Which is probably why we come back to it again and again, with crack-addict intensity, for the affirmation that we are succeeding at being who we desire to be.
It has always been the role of the writer to transcend reality for the sake of the art, to create alternate realities where the narrative can maintain the coherence of a dream. Percy knew this, which is probably why he made Binx a moviegoer—someone on “the search” for the way of being where fantasy and reality can merge. The fantasy is all light and tidy endings. The reality is often quiet, dark rooms where unresolved conflicts take place, where people ask you questions and don’t listen to your answers.
Binx’s search draws him to Kate, a broken woman who can give him no guarantee of happiness, a woman whose great epiphany is that “a person does not have to be this or be that or be anything, not even oneself. One is free.”
Personally, I’d prefer, for the time being, to remain “Betty Duffy.”