Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Spiritual seeking and The Second Coming: some random first notes (SPOILERS)

Walker Percy is a pretty darned good writer, isn’t he? Looking at The Second Coming strictly from the perspective of style and craftsmanship, I was struck again and again by his unique voice, that peculiar blend of sentimentality and cynicism – a man who is disgusted by much of what he sees in the world but ultimately can’t help but find meaning and hope in it. He has a poet’s sensibility, and it serves him well. I especially thought Allison’s dialogue was amusing, original, and fit the character perfectly. In fact, I think one of Percy’s strengths is revealing character through dialogue.

Some things I didn’t care for. I felt the novel’s structure was somewhat contrived and flawed … important events such as Will and Allison’s meeting (where he literally “falls at her feet”), and Allison turning out to be the daughter of Kitty Vaught, simply seemed too coincidental to take seriously. And Allison seemed to disappear from the narrative for too long a stretch of time. Plus, Will’s frequent “comic bafflement” when confronted by others got on my nerves a bit, and he seemed a little too passive for me -- although I suppose this was understandable given his mental problems. But I felt he was pushed, pulled, or (literally) fell into situations, rather than making the decisions himself – a bit of a puppet for the protagonist of a novel.

I’ll be interested in hearing what the humanists/atheists/agnostics among us made of this book. Percy is a strongly Christian writer of Roman Catholic faith, and yet he frequently satirizes what he seems to see as the materialism of organized Christianity. A case in point is Jack Curl, the Episcopal priest (the monk and writer Thomas Merton had it in for Episcopalians, too) who is one of the most irreligious characters in the entire novel. Also, it seems the “Church,” as symbolized by Jack Curl and others, is much more interested and more comfortable talking about money and what to build with it than they are about discussing Will’s admittedly difficult (if not downright strange at times!) questions about God. Or perhaps it’s the worst aspects of the mainstream Protestant church Percy is satirizing, a sort of lazy or easy Christianity that really doesn't require much of us except a little spare cash.

I picked up from somewhere the idea that Allison’s greenhouse is sort of a Garden of Eden in miniature, an earthly paradise safe from the lust and greed (the golf course and country club where Will plays golf with his cronies) that surrounds it. That might make Will the New Adam and Allison The New Eve, building a new and purer world in the midst of the old, flawed one. I think it’s an interesting idea, at least.

I thought it interesting that Allison’s frequent response “I can hoist,” which she uses to describe what she does, literally means lifting something up … in the spiritual sense, she certainly “lifts up” Will from the world he’s mired in.

Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning that Percy’s father committed suicide and he mother died when he was very young.

A novel about spiritual seeking, masquerading as an eccentric romantic comedy – I enjoyed it with a few reservations, mostly concerning how events seemed forced along at times.

That’s enough rambling from me for now – please feel free to comment, agree, challenge, add, etc.


Blogger Len said...

I only read the first bit of your comments since, to be honest, I'm only in chapter III of this book. I find the author's style in the chapters with Will annoying. I think he's writing in a disjointed way to make us feel the way the character does. But I still don't like it. The 2nd chapter with our electroscock therapy friend is great. The only thing getting me through chapter 3 (back to Will) is waiting for the two of them to meet up. That's all from me at this point...I have a ways to catch up!!

4:02 PM  
Blogger bct said...

Walker Percy is so good at having his characters describe a world they want no part of. And the implausibilities that bothered Ed, the all-roads-running-together coincidences, are such a strong contrast to Will and Allison's general disconnectedness--maybe without those improbable coincidences would be as desolate and bereft as they were. (umm.....sort of like The Moviegoer)
I started the book while reading The Sound and the Fury (yes, Oprah shamed me into it; I figured if a bunch of daytime TV-watchers could handle it, it was high time I did) and was struck by the number of parallel plot devices: the adjacent golf course, the letter meant to be sent posthumously, the multigenerational suicides. Reading it as Percy's homage to Faulkner was more satisfying than reading it for itself.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

I never thought about it until you mentioned it -- but the parallels to Faulkner's The Sound and the Furyare pretty blatant, aren't they? Did Percy really intend it as a homage to Faulkner? And can you imagine two more different writers from the same area of the country?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Michelle 2Ls said...

So do we have our next reading assignment?


My feeling was that the end was hurried & a little contrived, although it felt almost like he was starting his own "church" and gathering apostles...

but what was that last thing Kitty wanted to tell Will about Allie? hmmm or ick?


2:14 PM  

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