Born into a famous Mississippi Protestant family, Walker Percy found his writing roots while living in Greenville. His early years were marred by the suicides of his grandfather, his father, and his mother. Moving from his birthplace in Alabama, to Athens, GA, and finally to Greenville, Walker Percy (and his two brothers) were taken in by their uncle William Alexander Percy, a lawyer and poet.
The elder Percy socialized with William Faulkner and Langston Hughes. In 1927, the Harvard-educated attorney was put in charge of relief from the devastating Mississippi Flood by President Hoover.
In 1930, 13-year-old Walker met his lifelong friend and fellow writer Shelby Foote. The two attended Greenville High School and moved to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Percy wanted to be a psychiatrist until his internship was interrupted by a bout of tuberculosis. While his brothers fought in WWII, Percy was forced to stay home and convalesce. Restricted to his bed, Percy began to devour modern philosophers like Kierkegaard and Sartre, as well as reading the three major novels of Dostoevsky. His medical career now dashed, Percy found his literary voice.
Percy was no stranger to writing. He and Foote had maintained a regular correspondence for years now. In addition, he regularly contributed book reviews and essays to a campus publication. However, the experiences around his time in Chapel Hill would cement the events he sewed together in "The Moviegoer." Writing in fits and starts, Percy put together two novels, before abandoning them. While hospitalized, Percy attended Mass regularly and became a devout Catholic. In 1956, his essay "Stoicism In The South" denounced segregation and created a wider berth for Catholicism in the South.
When the former New Republic writer Stanley Kauffmann found a draft of Percy's novel in 1959, he pursued Percy to retool and refine his work. Kauffmann hailed Percy's creation of a new genre but cautioned him about its lack of clarity and storyline difficulties. As the two worked through the process, Percy learned volumes from Kauffmann's criticism, and Kauffmann better understood that the uncertainty and quiet defiance in the book reflected the life of Percy. The relationship between the pair solidified the novel's all-important voice.
Upon its release in 1961, it was instantly hailed as a classic, even winning the National Book Award in the same year as J.D.Salinger's "Franny and Zooey," and Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." Like those two books, Percy had no true hero but a protagonist who shared themselves with the world around them only to find too many questions unanswered. Percy's wandering in the novel (through the indelible character of Binx Bolling) was not only through the streets of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast - it was through life.
To a generation born during one war and quickly entering yet another, "The Moviegoer" spoke to living beyond the rigors of daily life and discovering one's existence through experience. In addition, Percy's own experience is evident. The tone of the work is elegiac possibly echoing the time spent with his uncle. While the overall vision of the book could be derived from the religious self-questioning of Kierkegaard, Percy compares his protagonist to Dante - a possible nod to his best friend Shelby Foote's ongoing love of classical literature.
Percy would continue to write. 1966's "The Last Gentleman" brought a Southerner to New York City. 1971's "Love In The Ruins" places a psychologist in Paradise, Louisiana in the middle of societal crisis. While Percy continued to write, he also taught writing at Loyola University in New Orleans. While instructing there, Percy was visited by a mother who brought him a smeared typewritten novel from her late son.
Urging him to read it, when Percy finally sat down to the work, he would quickly set aside all of his preconceived notions and find himself engrossed.
Percy took it to LSU Press who published the book in 1980. "A Confederacy of Dunces" would go on to win the Pulitzer in 1981.
Throughout all of his works, like most authors, you can find Walker Percy in there.
Whether or not he chose to occupy that character remains a question one returns to again and again in his novels. As his novels gained worldwide acceptance, they no longer live as a Southerner tried to find themselves - their point-of-view is far more universal, even if the dialogue is delivered with a familiar drawl.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.
NEW MUSIC RELEASES
NICK CAVE AND WARREN ELLIS
[LP/CD] (Goliath Ent)
The music of Nick Cave relies a lot on space. As his low croon lends gravitas to any phrase and his zeal for words makes even the most sepulchral lyrics feel warm, "Carnage" is halfway between film score and Bad Seeds album. Ellis' strings and arrangements can make redemption haunting ("Hand of God.") Ellis' percussion and Cave's hidden piano figures on "Old Time" is a 21st Century Gothic. Still, there are moments of real tenderness. "Albuquerque" is a beauty of a ballad and "Lavender Fields" a joyous release. In their quest to capture the last year, "Carnage" is a summation of how we all felt during the long nights and glorious dawns.
On her third album, Tucker finds a great balance for her writing. On the luminescent "Habanero," the early 90's sheen creates a gentle pull for the steadily rising chords, until she slows it down for the heartfelt ending. Listening to her hold on to the word "same" from the line "if we wanted exactly the same things," the sweetness of her high swooping voice communicates a world of doubt. That liminal place between knowing and not knowing is where much of "Sucker" finds its home. At times overly confident and others quite vulnerable, Tucker makes her most playful lyrics an implied statement of knowing. Tucker is not just another singer/songwriter pouring their heart out - this is a long gaze inside her mind.
"A Tiny House, In Secret Speeches, Polar Equals"
The duo Sweet Trip is making cosmic music that sounds earthy. If that sounds like "Polar Equals," then so be it. This mixture of shoegazery, Psychedelic, and sweet Pop never sounds the same way twice. Whether they mix in drum machines or keep it natural, the blend of ethereal voices, jangly guitars, and synths, make "A Tiny House" larger than life. Like smart chefs, the pair sample a little textural idea from Sixties French Pop, and then introduce a hint of Swinging London in there for good measure. While other artists (and their producers) would clearly reach to emulate the period, Sweet Trip seeks to keep you firmly in the present. "A Tiny House" is that rare album that lets you touch the stars and still feel the cool grass beneath your feet.