Walker Percy: A Life

Patrick Samway, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $35 (544p) ISBN 978-0-374-18735-4
When Walker Percy introduced himself as a writer to students at a Roman Catholic seminary, he told them, ""It's a tough way to make a living."" Dollars had nothing to do with it in his case, however: his adoptive father had left him a bundle. Although Percy won the National Book Award in 1962, beating out Catch-22--as well as fiction by Salinger, Singer and Malamud--in more than 30 years of writing novels, he completed only six. Except for his inheritance, life had been unkind to Percy. Both his father and mother had committed suicide when Percy was a schoolboy in Mississippi. His career as a physician ended early and abruptly when he contracted tuberculosis from his patients, and his recovery was slow and uncertain. Percy's creative clock also ran slowly, and his interest in fiction was often eclipsed by his interest in Existentialism and Catholicism, to which he became a convert--a dimension of his life that is given much space by Samway, a Jesuit priest who became Percy's authorized biographer and edited his uncollected essays as Signposts in a Strange Land (1991). Samway skirts Percy's emotional and imaginative being--the impact of the deaths of his parents, his relationships with his brothers and with his bachelor-poet Uncle Will (the boys' second father), his marital life with ""Bunt"" and his hinted-at extramarital temptations. Percy's long life (1916-1990) is approached rather doggedly on its surface, yet the likely torment in his aesthetic and spiritual pilgrimage is the part of Percy's life that escapes. Illustrations not seen by PW. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/28/1997
Release date: 05/01/1997
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