Reposting the review because Second Coming is on sale for $1.99 on kindle right now. Also his book Love in the Ruins is on sale for $2.81
Recently I have decided that I need to read more 20th century literary fiction. My eduction missed out on that entire century. And I also have been interested in the Catholic writers that were so popular in the mid to late 20th century.
Walker Percy has been republished by Open Road and has books easily available on Kindle (and from Lendle.me).
Will Barrett is middle aged, retired early, wealthy, and recently, a widower. This is a classic mid-life crisis book, one that I don’t think I would have appreciated as much as I do now even five years ago.
Allison is a young woman that has recently escaped from a mental hospital. She is schizophrenic, daughter of an old flame of Will’s, fabulously talented, but unable to cope with much of normal life.
Most of the book centers around Will Barrett’s internal drama. He is focused on the meaning of life, whether there is a God (and how God can be proved) and Barrett’s own history. Barrett’s (like Percy) father committed suicide when Will was a teen. Coupled with Barrett’s health problems, which are slowly revealed throughout the book, his thoughts take over his life.
Allison is in many ways a more interesting character. But she is mostly a side-kick. She moves the story along, creates tension and drama for the story, but is not fully explored or allowed to really roam free on her own.
And like my complaints about Flannery O’Connor (and to a lesser extent Cormac McCarthy), this is a book that just ends. I get interested in where the book is going and in the middle of going someplace, it ends. The ending feels like a set-up for a third book in a trilogy that never came.
In spite of my disappointment with the ending, this is a book well worth reading. Percy (in a very mid-late 20th century way) grapples with God. Barrett feels the need to prove his existence and wants God to answer to Barrett for Barrett’s pain. It feels like a modern Job story (calling God to account) without all of the suffering. Barrett has everything. He has as much money as he would like, all the freedom in the world. He has a grown adult daughter, that despite being a bit odd, loves him and wants what is best for him.
I think it is actually the abundance that is part of the suffering that Barrett is feeling as a Job character. Other parts of the suffering is aging, not necessarily Barrett himself (although he feels his age), but all of the old people around him. (His late wife funded a retirement community that Will still is very involved in.)
I read some other reviews and a lot of people do not like Will Barrett as a character. Or how he treats Allison (there is a romantic interest there.) But I did not find Will an unlikeable character, nor did I think Allison and Will together were bad.
I did want more to the book. I wanted more of Allison, I wanted more at the end of the book and just more. In spite of my desire for more, Percy is a very good writer and I will read more of him.