Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#41 - "The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy

The MoviegoerI finished my 41st book from this list yesterday, The Moviegoer, and I'm at a little bit at a loss as to what to think.  I didn't dislike this book by any means, nor did I find it boring.  I liked the characters, I liked the style, I liked most things about it.  But while I was reading it, I never really felt pulled in by it.  Never was I longing to read more.  Sure, I was curious as to what would happen, but it wasn't a book that was on my mind all the time, even when I wasn't reading.  I can't figure out why a book I liked basically everything about, hasn't left me thinking I just finished a great book.

The Moviegoer is about John "Binx" Bolling, a New Orleans stockbroker, who's just about to celebrate his thirtieth birthday.  He's very successful in his business career, he sleeps with his secretaries, so one could argue he's successful there as well, and he goes to the movies, usually alone.  But really, he's someone who's afraid of what he terms 'everydayness,' worried that he'll be forgotten once he has shuffled off this mortal coil.  He's bored of the routine of life, and he uses the movies as a way to escape.

I enjoyed the style of the book immensely, and it was an easy to follow, accessible read.  Binx seems like the kind of guy almost anybody could have a coffee or a beer with, pleasant, intelligent, well-meaning, and all around likable fellow.  He reminds me a little of Forrest Gump in his happy-go-lucky demeanor; he just happens to be a lot smarter and less naive.  The deeper we get to know Binx though, the more we see what's actually going on.

Behind that exterior, the one that's been chasing the 'American Dream', and quite successfully at that, we see that he isn't being fulfilled.  Sure, he's got the house, a good paying job, and a nice car.  But is the dream complete, or does he also have to go to medical school, get married and have children as well?  It's almost as if he feels pressured to take these next steps, and he's unsure if he wants to because it might be nothing more than a means to an end.

There lies Binx' great dilemma.  He doesn't want to get married, though everyone else seems to.  He doesn't  believe in God, but almost everyone else does.  He likes being a stock broker, though everyone agrees medicine would be a more respectable profession.  He knows he's missing something, but he's pretty sure it isn't these entanglements everybody else is interested in.  But despite the desire to avoid these 'traps', he is constantly being pressured from every angle, and it's only a matter of time before he's completely shut in, trapped by the very dream he had been chasing most of his life.  In the end, he knows he'll have to give in. 

I often thought back to Rabbit, Run's Harry Angstrom when reading about Binx Bolling.  Both men seem to be aimlessly wandering through the desert of life, unsure of both what it is they're missing and what it is they desire.  But both men know what they really want is change.  I suppose the similarities no doubt arise from both books having been written only a year apart, in a time when the very American Dream they are both chasing was going through some major upheavals.  Gone were the glory days of the 1950's, and in came the much more gritty, social-uprising 1960's.  It's only natural that literary characters of the time would reflect those changes.

You can read TIME magazine's original review from May 19, 1961 right here.

You can hear me discuss The Moviegoer on the CBC's The Eyeopener right here.

Up next is a book, or rather an author of been fearing since the beginning of this list; Thomas Pynchon.  While I don't really know anything about him, I've never heard anybody say he's was an easy straightforward read.  Pynchon is one of nine authors with two books on the list.  Twice I've had Gravity's Rainbow out from the library, twice it's been returned unread.  So instead of trying that one more time, I'm giving his other book a try; The Crying of Lot 49.  It looks a lot more manageable and a good way to ease my way into Pynchon.

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