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Excerpts from Samway on Lost in the Cosmos


From Walker Percy: A Life by Patrick Samway, SJ:

How did Walker feel at this point? [After having written Lost in the Cosmos.] One gets an indirect glimpse from his reply in the December 6 [1981] edition of The New York Times Book Review to the question of what book he would most like to have written and why. Walker selected Don Quixote because of the happy conjunction of narrative and satire. He could imagine how good Cervantes must have felt to have hit upon telling a superb, funny, tragic adventure and at the same time getting in his licks at what’s wrong with society. “Now there’s a happy man.” (p. 361-2)

The revised text of Lost in the Cosmos was forwarded to Bob Giroux. “Brilliant” was Bob’s first word to describe the book. “It’s funny, bitter, satiric and in places savage as Swift. It will certainly do better than The Message in the Bottle, because of its humor. It’s hard to assess its potential because you offend established religious positions in every direction.” Encouraged by this response, Walker sent his editor many corrections, insertions, and deletions. Bob Giroux’s instincts proved correct; when it was published, Lost in the Cosmos found an immediate and dedicated following, eventually outselling Walker’s other books. (p. 366)

Soon the reviews started appearing. Writing in The New York Times, Anatole Broyard found that Walker worries about “all the right things and expresses his fears with a naturalness and elegance that are all his own.” Linda Hobson in the The Times-Picayune said that this work defies categorization: “It is designed to shock the complacent, bored reader out of his own predicament and loss of the self, and it certainly has the effect desired.” Having recently completed her dissertation on Walker’s use of the comic and Christianity in his fiction, Hobson called attention to this dimension of this work. Gene Lyons in Newsweek found that Walker’s work was getting, like Alice talking about mad hatters and Cheshire cats, “curiouser and curiouser!” But deep down, he postulated that Walker’s readers would be “challenged and amused.” R.Z. Sheppard stipulated in Time that Walker’s voice in this work was “beguiling” and “civilized.” Jeack Beatty in The New Republic found the book crackling with “thought, ideas, exotic information.” He praised Walker’s wit and found him to be a “maestro of fear and trembling.” In Gambit, a local paper, Jesse Core, a longtime correspondent of Walker, found that the work “stands brilliantly alone as a work of non-fiction.” As Walker had suspected, the reviews showed a wide spectrum of criticism. In writing to Cleanth Brooks, he said he was well aware of the critical reception of Lost in the Cosmos. “it is a somewhat mischievous book and it has elicited already considerable irritation as well as approval from reviewers. (p. 370-1)

Walker allowed David Duty of the Austin Independent School District to pursue working on a PBS series based on The Message in the Bottle and Lost in the Cosmos. (p. 371)

Comments

  1. Henri Young says

    The book I would most like to have written is the Collected Works of Shakespeare because of the way he walks the line between tragedy, comedy and history.

  2. Rufus McCain says

    I wish I’d written The Bible. Or at least The Old Testament.

  3. Henri Young says

    The book I most like to have written is Confessions by St. Augustine in the original Latin.

  4. Rufus McCain says

    I wish I’d written The Norton Anthology.

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