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Walker Percy Biography

(1916–90), The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Second Coming

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American novelist, born in Birmingham, Alabama, educated at the University of North Carolina. Percy studied medicine at Columbia University and while working in New York's Bellevue Hospital contracted tuberculosis; during his long stay in a sanatorium, he decided to be a writer and moved towards an existential Catholicism, joining the Catholic Church in 1946. His first novel, The Moviegoer (1961), set in New Orleans, established him as one of the leading writers from the American South. Its central figure and narrator, Binx Bolling, is the first of Percy's alienated heroes: an outsider, who finds himself unable to participate in the aspirations and activities of those around him. The Last Gentleman (1966) concerns Will Barrett, who suffers from curious amnesiac attacks or ‘fugues’ in which he is unable to identify people or places. Love in the Ruins (1971), a work of fantasy, was followed by the very successful Lancelot (1977), the confession of an inmate of a mental hospital. The Second Coming (1980) is again about Will Barrett, now middle-aged; a quasi-apocalyptic work, set in North Carolina, it describes the protagonist's gradual realization of the hollowness of his comfortable, affluent existence and his involvement with a girl afflicted with aphasia. The Thanatos Syndrome (1987) is a more extrovert novel, about the dangers of libertarianism. Percy also wrote several works of philosophical and theological speculation, including The Message in the Bottle (1975) and Lost in the Cosmos (1981), which reflect his immersion in Phenomenology.

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