Book review: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

This novel appears on a list of the 100 best of all time. Lists don’t really mean anything, but we are meant to believe that the most important lists of the best of the best are vetted by people who are supposed to know about these things.

I was gifted a nice edition of The Moviegoer by my good friend Chris while visiting him on a trip to North Carolina. It sat on the shelf for years, I even gave it a shot last year but abandoned. But this year, thanks to my new habit of listening to audiobooks while reading along, has brought me back to it.

The Moviegoer stars a first-person narrator a la Catcher in the Rye but it’s difficult to really give a shit about the character. In fact, as I write this, I can’t even recall the character’s name. The Moviegoer is a the well written novel but – and I’m going to go out on a limb here – I found it too boring to continue and I ending up abandoning on page 184 even though there were only about fifty remaining.

The protagonist is in search of something, and the novel is known as a work of existentialism and there are some excellent examples of creative exposition following the old maxim of show don’t tell…

Kate stretches out a leg to get at her cigarettes. Her ritual of smoking stands her in good stead. She extracts the wadded pack, kneads the warm cellophane, taps a cigarette violently and accurately against her thumbnail, lights it with a Zippo worn smooth and yellow as a pocket watch. Pushing back her shingled hair, she blows out a plume of gray lung smoke and plucks a grain from her tongue. She reminds me of college girls before the war, how they would sit five and six in a convertible, seeming old to me and sullen-silent toward men and toward their own sex, how they would take refuge in their cigarettes: the stripping of cellophane, the clash of Zippos, the rushing plume of lung smoke expelled up in a long hissing sigh.

This passage is an excellent example of showing the reader characterization through actions. Some writers will list physical attributes and throw in a few actions to cover the full descriptive range but in this paragraph; Walker Percy leads the reader into visualization of minor characters and is a hard to nail down technique and is no doubt what earned so much acclaim for this novel.

Even so, the lack of any kind of plot couldn’t keep me engaged. If I don’t like a movie, I don’t force myself to finish it. I feel the same about novels and my list of summer reading is so long, I have no time to waste. Sorry Walker.

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