“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie,even a bad movie...What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Wells in the doorway in the Third Man.”
Binx Bolling is floating through life. He survived the Korean War even came back with a good wound, a shoulder wound, that allowed him to leave the conflict with honor. He lives in Gentilly, a middle class suburb of New Orleans. He has a boring job as a stock broker that he is reasonably successful at. He comes from old money. He spends most of his spare time going to movies. The problem is he is about to turn 30 and his family, in particular his aunt, feels he needs to start making something more of his life. Binx struggles with the BIG SEARCH
that mythical concept that he will stumble across sometime in the triangle of work, movie theater, and home. He is much more comfortable with the little things those moments of bliss not earned, but just experienced. “It is not a bad thing to settle for the Little Way, not the big search for the big happiness but the sad little happiness of drinks and kisses, a good little car and a warm deep thigh.”
Binx hires secretaries, takes them to movies, makes love to them, and eventually they want something more and when that moment happens he knows he will be needing a new secretary soon. The latest woman to fall into his nest of need is Sharon Kincaid and he is showing great restraint in working with her for two weeks without asking her out. "I have not asked her for a date nor spoken of anything other than business. Yet the fact is that for two weeks I have thought of little else. She seems quite indifferent so far; and she is not really beautiful. She is a good-sized girl, at least five feet six and a hundred and thirty-five pounds--as big as a majorette--and her face is a little too short and pert, like one of those Renoir girls, and her eyes a little too yellow. Yet she has the most fearful soap-clean good looks. Her bottom is so beautiful that once as she crossed the room to the cooler I felt my eyes smart with tears of gratitude."
The fact is Binx can have his dalliances, but his mate, the girl that is like a split half of him, is Kate Cutrer his cousin by marriage. She has lost one fiance in a car accident and her mind, though sharp, has fractured and her fears are all consuming. Her family is afraid she is destined for suicide, but she reassures them that the thought of suicide is what allows her to enjoy life. "As if to emphasize her sallowness and thinness, she has changed into shirt and jeans. She is as frail as a ten year old, except in her thighs. Sometimes she speaks of her derrière, sticks it out Beale Street style and gives it a slap and this makes me blush because it is a very good one, marvelously ample and mysterious and nothing to joke about."
Binx has no set ideas of his own except for his constant desire to see movies. He takes the suggestions of family and friends in stride and tries to please everyone. When he gets offered a promotion his first thought is of losing his carefully cultivated life, but it never occurs to him to turn it down. When his aunt suggests he go to medical school again he agrees because he does not have a better idea of what he should be doing.
Now Walker Percy was heavily influenced by the writings of the Existentialist movement as he was composing this novel. Even though he infuses an almost dream like quality and a passivity in the face of grinding monotony in the character Binx I did not come away with the gloomy feelings that other reviewers have felt from reading this book. We only get to be with Binx for a week, but I really feel that he will do what he has to do, and he will be just fine as long as he continues to enjoy the movies, have time for his books, and occasional catch a glimpse of a nice pair of rounded calves.
I have always had huge expectations for myself and the war might have done this for Binx, but for me it has just been pounding away at life. I don't want to "live large". I don't seek big promotions or accolades anymore. I want to read my books, spend time with my family, and tend to my rosebushes. In no way, shape, or form have I given up on life, but I have realized what is most important to me. Happiness is the little things and the BIG SEARCH
is over for me. This is the second time I've read this novel and the second time was as good as the first with twenty plus years between readings. Highly recommended!!
P.S. This is the book that I took with me to read for jury selection. I ended up being the 12th juror and helped turn the tide for a guilty verdict. I decided to leave my juror paperwork tucked in the back of this book so someday when some shady book dealer like Dean Corso (The Ninth Gate)is pawing through my books it will flutter out and have to be read because book dealers are infinitely curious.