BOOK REVIEW THE BEST WAY Death, Beyond A Doubt Pole Fishing AUSTIN WHEN IT WON the National Book Award, Walker Percy’s novel, The Moviegoers, had sold only a few hundred hardback copies, although some critics had praised it highly. The award was a total surprise to everyone. The trade story is that the husband of a member of the selection committee told his wife that Percy’s book should win. She read it, agreed, and obtained copies for other members of the committeeit had not been nominatedand it was picked over such favorites as Franny and Zooey and others. THE PUBLISHER’S surprise is documented by The Moviegoer’s appearance in paperback so soon after the announcement of the award. Obviously the contract with the paperback comed before the National Book Award committee met or the novel would have been kept off the revolving bookracks of supermarkets and drug stores a little longer to give the hardback sales a chance to benefit from the award. At any rate, the committee’s selection is almost enough to restore, in the most cynical hearts, faith in the power of serious talent over agile gimmickability. The Percy novel is so good it has a stunning effect on the unwary reader by the time he has finished the first few chapters, especially in view of the fact that this is Percy’s first published fiction. The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a sort of Americanized version of the Parisian lawyer in Camus’ The Fall. The plotswung on a recent Mardi Gras week in New Orleans and its humid environs is interesting, but secondary, except as a frame for Binx’s dogged, haphazard search for reality. He escapes the depressiveness of the stereotyped world in which he so docilely exists by constantly going to movies and engaging in his only two visceral activities –making money and girls. Outwardly, he is as conventional as the least imaginative among his family and small circle of friends. But his mind is never still. He has become his conventional self quite passively, but he is AUSTIN THE MASTHEAD of the Hays County Citizen, published in the thriving urban complex which is Kyle, Texas, declares that weekly paper to be the “official publication of the Young Gentleman’s Excelsior Coffee Colloquium and Yacht Club of Northern Hays County and Vicinity.” MINNIE FISH CUNNING-HAM, who would probably be official Sweetheart of the Observer if we had one, was in Houston this week for a particularly lively meeting of Lillian Collier’s Democratic Women’s Committee. Minnie Fish has just been pressured by neighbors getting a party-line into installing a telephone on her ranch out from New Waverly. “I can’t use it yet,” she said. “I’m going to have to have lessons. People have phoned me, but I haven’t phoned out.” TEDDY WALKER seems to be having trouble with comsymps THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 5 July 13, 1962 thoroughly aware of the utterly predictable state of things and he says, quite without alarm. at the outset of one chapter: “For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead . . : In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt this is death. It seems that conversation is spoken by automatons who have no choice in what they say. I hear myself or some.. one else saying things like: ‘In my opinion Russian people are a great people, but . . .’ or, ‘Yes, what you say about the hypocrisy of the North is unquestionably true. However . . .’ and I think to myself: This is death.” He gets his intellectual kicks, for lack of available stimulation elsewhere, by going to the public library “. . . to read liberal and conservative periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one. bears for the other. In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in this world. . . . Down I plunk myself with a liberal weekly at one of the massive tables, read it from cover to cover, nodding to myself whenever the writer scores a point. Damn right, old son, I say, jerking my chair in approval. Pour it on them. Then up and over to the rack for a conservative monthly and down in a fresh cool chair to join the counterattack. Oh no, say I, and hold fast to the chair arm: that one did it; evisceratnd! And then out and away into the sunlight, my neck prickly with satisfaction.” BINX GOES to movies almost every weeknight because, ac cording to his carefully plotted theory, movie stars are the onlimmensely real people. You know they are real, you see, because they do things with such dispatch and verve up there on the screen and live only through neatly packaged episodes, with beginnings and endings. To add flavor to his sterile performance as a in the Dallas city manager’s office. A city building inspector this week sought to serve Walker with a notice of possible zoning violation, alleging he was using a residence as an office. The inspector reported he found the following things in the house: file cabinets, three desks, a stenographer, someone who looked like an assistant, and the General himself. “First thing I want to know,” Walker commented, “is who has established that this is an office?” The city’s boss of building inspectors said: “The gentleman refused to accept the noticeor at least to sign it. “The inspector left the notice on the gentleman’s desk. He threw it out the door as the inspector left.” It is now widely rumored in Dallas leftist circles that Walker conservatives, to fight this latest example of big government, have formed GOLONGroup of Loosely Connected Neighborhoods. Their motto: “Government by Neighborhood by God.” member of ordinary society, Binx often assumes the character of Gregory or Rock or Bill Holden by mimicking their motions and postures. \(“Now I am Gregory grim and no fooling this time to actually see and touch a movie star in person, Binx reasons, your own reality is validated for an unspecified period of time. If you can touch and feel something real you too must be real. The predesigned order, and ritual, and anatomy of every event of this electronic age of instant communication of the tiniest ideas have brainwashed the entire population into automatons, Binx bellieves. Therefore, even his pursuit of intimate relations with his lovely secretaries require special adjustments. He explains: “The car itself is allimportant, I have discovered. When I first moved to Gentilly, I bought a new Dodge sedan, a Red Barn Six. It was a comfortable, conservative and economical two-door sedan, just the thing it seemed to me, for a young Gentilly businessman. When I first slid under the wheel to drive it, it seemed everything was in orderhere was I, a healthy young man, a veteran with all his papers in order, a U.S. citizen driving a good car. All these things were true enough, yet on my first trip to the Gulf Coast with Marcia I discovered to my dismay that my fine new Dodge was a regular incubator of malaise . . . though we were spinning along in perfect comAmerican couple in the Dodge ad.” The malaise caused, in this instance, by finding himself in a TV commercial becomes suffocating to Binx’s erotic projects so he buys a foreign car. “My little red MG is a miserable vehicle actually, with not a single virtue save one: it is immune to the malaise. You have no idea what happiness Marcia and I experienced as soon as we found ourselves spinning along in this bright little beetle . . . We sat out in the world, out in the thick summer air between air and earth. The noise was deafening, the wind was like a hurricane; straight ahead the grains of concrete rushed at us like mountains.” We are tempted to quote on and on from the pages of this extremely quotable novel. \(When his automaton friends repeat such automatic and totally meaningless phrases as, “Are you kidding,” Binx always answers, Percy’s insight be fully appreciated, so we resist the temptation intensified by the fact that quotabel writers are almost as rare as dodo birds these days. Also, we are tempted to rave on about Mr. Percy’s acute landscapes of New Orleans and surrounding countryside, of which one critic said, “. . . he writes as though he created it.” Author Percy is a nephew of the late William Alexander Percy, Greenville, Miss., poet-statesmannovelist whose novel Lanterns on the Levee is considered something of a classic of its kind. In 1941, Walker Percy became a Doctor of Medicine at Columbia University. He was forced to retire after his internship by pulmonary tuberculosis and has been writing since. Prior to the publication of The Moviegoer, his philosophical and medical essays appeared in Partisan Review and other periodicals. J.M. STATE PARK LAKE, HUNTSVILLE I learned to fish with a cane sinker, and hook when I was growing up in a house in San Antonio beside the river of the city’s name. I dug my worms from under the leaking backyard faucet or by the river. For a stringer I’d take a piece of fishing line, tie a little stick at one end to get the line through the fishes’ gills, and stop them from slipping off the other end by tieing a knot around the first fish’s gills. Sometimes I would hide in the tall Johnson grass and throw out a larger hook hoping for one of the big catfish I heard somebody caught, but I didn’t believe I would ever catch one, and I don’t believe I ever did. I WAS, HOWEVER, even at the age of nine, one hell of a perch fisherman. I used to fish alone on the downstream side of the Pioneer White Wing Flour Mills, right where the water comes out of the mill with loud noises and eddies around a rail that supports some part of the mill. When they were biting, which was almost always, the cork would go under before it had time to bounce back from being dropped in. The only question was how many of the perch I dared take home for my mother to clean. She used to object especially to the wee ones that were less than two inches long, failing to appreciate that this seemed quite a lot of fish to me at the time. It was a long walk of six blocks or so through the old King William section of the city to the mill, but that was the way I liked to fish, and that was the place I liked to fish, so the walk was always a part of the fun. I would fish until almost dark, and then walk home along King William past the hulking silhouettes of the great old homes, my pole over my shoulder and the long string of perch dragging tails on the sidewalk, the stringer wrapped around my wrist, hurting. Sometimes we, our family, would go camping, and the fishing was a little more elaborate then, with a perforated minnow bucket and a store-made stringer with a loop at the end, but we. never used artificial lures, or rods, or reels. That was the way I grew up, and that is what I will never outgrow. Many times since then I have gone fishing with people who have boats, motors, spinning reels, flyrods, spoons, hoppers, poppers, dip nets, double-loop leaders, and, for the coast, rods as long as sharks and reels as big as a man’s head. I have caught fish now and then on these trips, but I never enjoyed it much. It seemed unfair, messing up the water by dumping in a hardware store, piece by piece, until the poor fish bite from sheer fright and exasperation. It’s a dirty enough trick to put a hook in a worm or a minnow a fish will really enjoy eating, if he gets away with it, but to confuse him into biting on a piece of painted fiber, or flashing metal! It has never appealed to my sense of the fair game. That, however, is probably just the way I formulate what really upsets me. I like to fish with the pole and cork. YESTERDAY EVENING, at loose ends a few hours in Huntsville, I bought some min nows at a filling station and drove out to the state park lake to fish alone for the first time since I was a boy at the flour mill. I had a rod and a reel, of course: one can maintain only so much old fashionedness against the importunities of one’s own youth. Nor could I have corkfished from the bank of that shoal-edged lake without a line I could cast out. Yet I could not cast out too far, or my line would have tangled with one of the water-skiiers’ boats zooming past. Every navigable body of water in the country seems to be occupied by these boats, motors, and water skiiers all summer long; even our rivers have become highways. I would like to see some waters set aside for fishermen, and some for the waterskiiers; a law might even be entertained prohibiting water skiing some months and fishing other months, so at least some of the time fishermen could fish in peace. Through the late afternoon I sat in the shade of a tree trunk on the bait bucket container, reading and watching the skiiers upend. The cork got lots of wave action. Finally I pulled it in and went swimming, prepared at any moment to be decapitated by a flying water ski. As the sun went behind the trees, though, the water sportsmen withdrew, leaving the water still, and I took three small bass and a baby yellow catfish during the witching hour when the trees shoulder corridors in the lake and the whole smooth surface is agitated by circles appearing as by spontaneous creation. The largest of the bass, about twelve inches, wriggled out of my hand as I bent to the edge of the water to string him. For supper I had a can of sardines and water out of a canteen. ABIG-BELLIED MAN in a Tshirt and his boy of ten or eleven years came to talk to me. We agreed they would tarethe fish; the boy could eat them for breakfast. They were camping there, along with many others. It is a good thing to see so many families camping there. However, from one camp up the bank a little, a rapid engine rappity-:ap began to issue; they had bought their own power plant. The bigbellied man and I began to talk about when we were boys. I suppose to the youngster we must have sounded like real lost squares, because he was talking of the days when he used to come here and fish from a boat, “set out hooks,” cane pole fish, with nary a safety-belted water skiier in sight, and I was telling him how I learned to fish at the Pio
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