Happy Mardi Gras!
Tomorrow, when you’re nursing your hangover and generally feeling like death warmed over, why not pick up Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, which offers the most depressing and poignant depiction I know of Carnival week and contemporary Southern malaise? From a Contemporary Authors profile:
Percy wrote two unpublished novels before beginning The Moviegoer. He finally found his fictive niche, however, when he decided to follow Albert Camus’s example and write about a character who serves as “an embodiment of a certain pathology of the twentieth century,” to use his own words from the Southern Review. He told the New York Times that in order to write meaningful fiction he had to overcome the American tendency “to distinguish between our reflections on our universal predicament and what can be told in fiction. . . . The French see nothing wrong with writing novels that address what they consider the deepest philosophical issues.” The Moviegoer was published in 1961 when Percy was forty-five, and although the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, did little to promote the book, it was discovered and accorded the National Book Award. Most critics feel that The Moviegoer presents most of the themes with which Percy concerned himself in subsequent fiction and nonfiction. “What we don’t see in Percy’s novels is the changing vision of the world that we often get from a writer who publishes while he is young, and then continues to write,” noted Andre Dubus in Harper’s. “With The Moviegoer we were in the hands of a mature writer whose theme had already chosen him. He has been possessed by it ever since, and that is why he is not truly repetitious. . . . It’s not repetition we’re hearing, but the resonant sound of a writer grappling with his theme.”
In The Moviegoer and subsequent novels, Percy introduces the concept of Malaise, a disease of “depression and despair, intensified by the awareness of a moral and metaphysical wasteland in which intellectuals claim to have outgrown the rituals and beliefs of organized religion,” according to Tharpe.
If you’re not in the mood to be thoughtful and penitent tomorrow, take a look at this 1998 Book Magazine piece on New Orleans writers for other options.
(Link to Bourbon Street webcam courtesy of TMFTML, where the proprietor has used the phrase “drawers-dropping drunk”. That’s pretty much the only description my grandmother ever gave of her father and husbands.)