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I first came across Percy...

schuster (

I first came across Walker Percy 20 years ago, when my wife and I were in
Victoria B.C. for our honeymoon. We stopped in a small bookstore near
our hotel, and I found _The Moveigoer_ on the shelf and took it down, and
started to read. I remember, it was a trade paperback edition, with a
$1.95 cover price. I was entranced from the first sentence and read a
page, put it back, took down another book, then took down the Percy
again, read a bit more, then replaced it, and on and on for quite some
time, trying to figure out of I could justify, given our economic
straits, spending a full two dollars on the book. I didn't. Then, not
long after, when we were back in Seattle, where we lived then, I was
waiting for a bus to go to work, when it started to rain. The bus stop
was in front of a religious book store, and I went inside for shelter,
and found the Percy novel again, and I was all the more intrigued with
this novel among some fundamentalist Christian books. Again, I took it
down, read a bit more, but didn't buy it. I was making $90 a week, and
my wife was a graduate student with a small stipend, and books were not
in the budget. Finally, I came across the novel yet again in another
bookstore, and this time, in a fit of defiance against the gods of
prudent finance, bought it, and then went on a binge of reading all of
his works to that point--the novels through Love in the Ruins, Message in
a Bottle, and every essay by and about Percy I could find in the library
stacks. (Interstingly, the first essay I ever read about Percy was by
Richard Ford, this year's Pulitzer winner, published in The National

I admire Percy for his novels of ideas, but I also love his work as
fiction, as good reads. For example, The Moviegoer--which I'm re-reading
now, for the ??th time--always struck me as a novel about the end of the
world. Binx Bolling is the last man on earth, looking for the last woman,
just as much as any Last Man on Earth in those countless B science
fiction movies of the 1950s, a kind of Kevin McCarthy character in
Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I had the fortune to interview Percy in 1985, when he came to St. Louis
to receive the St. Louis Literary Award, which Walter Ong presented to
him. (Percy said he accepted the award largely for the chance to meet
Ong, for whom my wife worked as an undergraduate at St. Louis
University.) My interview, published in a magazine here, added nothing
new to the body of work about Percy--it was a general interest regional
magazine, and so I wrote the interview to introduce Percy to people who
didn't know his work. Yet, I remember Percy as gracious and thoughtful
as we talked about the role of the novelist in the late 20th century. Two
years later, when I sent him a birthday card, enclosing a review I wrote
about Thanatos Syndrome, he wrote me back, saying he remembered me, and
telling me the Ansel Adams photo on the front of the card I sent was his
favorite. Southern and gracious.

Presently, I'm a member of the faculty of the School of Communications at
Webster University, where I also coordinate the media writing program.

Joseph M. Schuster

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