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Falstaffian Hauteur in the Warm, Heavy Air

Liebling had a Falstaffian presence, was fat and jowly, brilliant and egoistic. He wanted in this context to be seen as a crusader for justice. Knopf, he told the audience at Columbia, had failed in its promotion of The Moviegoer. Without A.J. Liebling, one was left to presume, a masterpiece may have been forever lost to posterity. But there was more to the story: A decade before, Knopf had published Liebling’s book Chicago: The Second City, and Liebling had never forgiven Knopf for not pushing the book vigorously enough. Now, given the opportunity to embarrass his old publisher for failing to champion Percy’s text, he did not hesitate to put the boot in.

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Herbert Gold, a novelist who was also a member of the fiction jury that year, confirms Stafford’s description. Talese’s report, he says, “is complete bullshit. The fact was I loved The Moviegoer. I went to New York with that book under my arm hoping to convince the other two judges. But I can’t claim credit because Jean also loved the book.” The third judge, Lewis Gannett, a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, was reportedly happy to comply. In fact, according to Gold, Gannett was not on intimate terms with the books on the short list. “My wife liked that one” was about all he could muster in response to some, and The Moviegoer won unanimously on the first ballot.

But Talese’s story was the version on record, and it was cited for years after. Stafford had to answer to the controversy until her death in 1979, and to this day Talese stands by his report. “If I wrote it,” he told me last month, “then it’s true. I am not a fiction writer like Walker Percy.”

Read more about Percy’s aplomb, etc. at Slate

Comments

  1. Excellent. Thanks SE.

  2. Let’s use force of personality to push Quin’s novel.

  3. I knew a guy once who was all set to write a book about Percy.

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