PILGRIM IN THE RUINS: A Life of Walker Percy by Jay Tolson

PILGRIM IN THE RUINS: A Life of Walker Percy

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Walker Percy was a lot of things: son of a suicide father and, soon after, motherless aa well; a pathologist; a TB patient; a Catholic convert and the Church's most interesting orthodox thinker since Chesterton; a dogged nonacademic philosopher; a father of a deaf child; a determinedly middle-class husband and citizen. All these things along with being one of the best novelists America ever has had. That Tolson, editor of The Wilson Quarterly, should have been drawn to Percy's life is more than understandable--but that he seems to care so little about the art Percy put his life to is mystifying and somewhat of a letdown. True, Percy saw his remarkable novell as tools of knowledge; beneath them lay a rare didactic and spiritual urgency. But when Tolson must frame Percy's later writing life around these works, he does so without the tools of literary nuance, treating them rather aa more-or-less stymied vehicles for themes and ideas and beliefs the books always fall short of snugly abstracting. Percy--a contradictory man--admittedly put as much as half of his energies into promoting a philosophical-religious program of ideas. Still, it is for his rangy, suave, amused, beautiful prose, and for the startling Russian-like admixture of terror and laughter that makes up his works, that he will be remembered. This comes across in Tolson's workmanlike book only aa through a glass darkly. Tolson, though, does give us more specifics of Percy's life than we've ever had: the ambivalences of his growing up aa the ward of his cousin Will, author of Lanterns on the Levee; his exhilarating lifelong friendship with Shelby Foote (the letters between them excerpted here are worth the price of the book); his longing for community and his great aloneness. But to leave out, aa Tolson largely does, careful inspection of the crosspiece to Percy's pilgrimage of belief--the lies he put his life to making, the fiction--makes this much less than the book it could have been.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster