The recent tropical weather, 95 degrees and 100% humidity, has regenerated my interest in Southern literature, because if I’m hot and sweaty I might as well be so in the company of great Southern writers. I originally planned to attend a book festival this weekend, but it’s too damned hot. So I have declared my house a Southern literature sanctum and my air-conditioned living room a Walker Percy zone.
What does this mean?
It means I’ve pulled some Southern literature off my shelves: Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Spencer, Carson McCuller,, and Kennedy O’Toole. I’m starting with Walker Percy (1916-1990). Yes, his books are stacked on the table. I’m reading his 1980 novel, The Second Coming, and am simply in awe. How did this writer escape my attention when I was young? I read The Moviegoer, his 1961 National Book Award winner, many years ago, but was discouraged by one of his later books.
Honestly, I can see why The Second Coming wasn’t originally my kind of thing. Much of the action of the first hundred pages takes place during a golf game.
Will Barrett, the hero, a retired widower, is playing no ordinary golf game. He is hallucinating on the course, slicing balls into the woods, falling down repeatedly, pointing his golf club like a gun, and having flashbacks to his childhood, when his father shot him on a hunting trip. And, while a friend tries to distract his attention with crude jokes, Will is wondering about the point of life–why he wasted so much time in New York, making money, before returning to the South.
Meanwhile, Allison, a young woman who is not quite sure what year it is, has escaped from a mental hospital after an ECT session and is living in a greenhouse near the golf course. She plans to refurbish the greenhouse and has complicated plans for moving a big wood-burning stove. Their paths cross when Will smashes a ball through the window. And an odd friendship develops.
I can’t tell you more about this now, because I don’t really want to blog much tonight. And there are a lot of Catholic metaphors and symbols, birds, ball games, stained glass, aphasia, and more, to think about. Or at least I’m pretty sure there is, but I haven’t read enough of the book yet.
Here’s the book at the top of my TBR: The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie a biography of four Southern Catholic writers, Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.