The Moviegoer was for me a slightly dangerous book. Binx, in his own eccentric and acidly funny way, can be awfully charming--so charming that you might forget how messed up he is. He became a hero to me when I read the book in college. I suppose I saw in his ironic withdrawal (or what some would call his smugness) the ideal stance for the smart young man. I know I aspired to be as cool and noncommittal as Binx--as I learned, not necessarily a strategy for great interpersonal success.
Writing in The New York Review of Books in 2005, Joyce Carol Oates identified Binx as one of a string of solitary, cool, self-absorbed males in American fiction—other examples including Saul Bellow’s Joseph from Dangling Man, and the narrator of Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision.
I thought she was a little hard on Binx. His detachment is, in part, an effort to find a stance for himself in relationship to all the pompous asses around him. Typically, he recalls pledging a frat in college (“Did you or did you not feel a unique something when you walked into this house?” he is asked) and just as typically, spends his four years there lazing on the porch and “not acquiring a single honor.”
Or consider his favorite radio program: “This I Believe,” in which “the highest-minded people in our country” state “their personal credos.” (“Monks have their compline, I have 'This I Believe.'”) Binx remembers the time he sent in his own entry. “Here are the beliefs of John Bickerson Bolling, a moviegoer in New Orleans,” it ran. “I believe in a good kick in the ass. This—I believe.”
There’s no denying Binx’s pathology, though. And when he wanders out to the bus shelter outside Mrs. Schexnaydre’s place in the middle of the night only to find a distressed Kate, it’s hard to know which of the pair is in worse shape. First Binx proposes marriage. And when Kate panics, he tells her—because she asks him to—that everything is going to be all right.
Is it me, or is this when we know for sure that nothing is going to be all right?