Everything Robert Coles writes has a galumphing earnestness, a bird-dogging of the authentically valuable. And Walker Percy's work has allowed Coles to feel ""less bewildered, and distracted,"" more ""at home"" with himself--so this is by way of an act of grateful homage to a ""pilgrim. . . balancing contemporary Christian existentialism with the pragmatism and empiricism of an American physician."" True enough. After a background sketch of Percy's philosophic influences (Percy's Kierkegaard is, we'd venture, a little different than Coles'--but no matter) and a discussion of basic existential thought (Coles here valuably insists that existential questioning is not limited by economic class; he quotes his own interviews with migrant workers, businessmen, factory hands to show that everyone now and then wonders what it all means), Coles gets to Percy's writing. A good deal of helpful attention is paid to the essays, which are often sufficiently technical and/or subtle to benefit from the introduction Coles gives them. But the novels--well, Coles is no literary critic; he approaches the fiction in his customary head-on way, explicating, psychologizing, fitting in theories like shims--and it has a baleful effect. Percy's fiction fairly snaps with intelligence and above all art, but under Coles' heavy blankets it looks made up of four large lumps. That's a shame, because Coles loves these novels and tries so hard to exhibit their radiance--but Percy simply outfrisks his admirer. Coles almost totally ignores the wit and the jaundice, and if you've never read Percy's fiction you may get the entirely wrong idea of what it's like. So pay attention to the first half here, then go to the bookstore or the library and read or reread Percy plain.