Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogging The Moviegoer: Thursday

Binx likes to talk about his “exile in Gentilly,” as if his life among the ranch houses and gas stations linked him with the ancient desert monastics. Gentilly may be a kind of desert, but Binx is taken with the everyday wonder of the place. “The concrete is virginal, as grainy as they day it was poured,” he notices. And later, during a middle-of-the-night stroll: “The swimming pools steam like sleeping geysers.” One of the things I’ve always prized about The Moviegoer is the way it undercuts expectations about how a postwar American novel will portray the suburbs. Yates and Updike and Cheever and the rest have told us that suburbs are bleak outposts of stifling conventionality. Percy doesn’t cheerlead for suburbia, but he lets Binx tune into some of its magic:

Evening is the best time in Gentilly. There are not so many trees and the buildings are low and the world is all sky. The sky is a deep bright ocean full of light and life. A mare’s tail of cirrus cloud stands in high from the Gulf. High above the lake a broken vee of ibises points for the marshes; they go suddenly white as they fly into the tilting salient of sunlight. Swifts find a windy middle reach of sky and come twittering down so fast I think at first gnats have crossed my eyelids. In the last sector of apple green a Lockheed Connie lowers from Mobile, her running lights blinking in the dusk. Station wagons and Greyhounds and diesel rigs rumble toward the Gulf Coast, their fabulous taillights glowing like rubies in the darkening east. Most of the commercial buildings are empty except the filling stations where attendants hose down the concrete under the glowing discs and shells and stars.

When Binx gets home from work on Thursday evening, he finds a note from his Aunt Emily waiting for him. It’s one of her bits of unsolicited advice: “Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity. . .”

This is rich, coming as it does after Binx’s day at the office, which he spent swooning over his new secretary, Sharon. (“Her bottom is so beautiful that once as she crossed the room to the cooler I felt my eyes smart with tears of gratitude.”) Later, after a western with Kate, and an insomniac night spent wandering the neighborhood, he falls asleep on the ground in his landlord’s yard.

No one’s going to confuse Binx with Marcus Aurelius.

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