Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The Moviegoer, Part II
Binx is interesting, and I probably would have thought him real deep if I'd read The Moviegoer as a teenager, but now what stands out is that he isn't nearly as perceptive as he thinks he is.
It seems like Binx can't get a handle on who he his until he has a handle on the kind of person his father was. Problem is, he seems incapable of twisting the jewel to see how the facets interact with one another. He thinks his mother and his aunt don't know who his father was because they emphasize different aspects of his character, but instead of trying to meld the "student prince" and the "ironic young dude" and the "overwrought" man into a single personality, he'd prefer to think that everyone has made "an emblem" of the man. Binx listens, but he does not hear -- though that's fitting, since he feels like that's the problem with everyone else.
He's a fairly astute observer of externals, but he lacks that spark of caritas that allows a man to fully engage with his fellow humans. He hasn't grown out of an adolescent snark; he just expresses himself more literately. He can ascribe motives and objectives, but he can't find the essential humanity behind the actions of those he observes. If he were an writer, he'd be a second-rate Robinson Davies: all slice 'n dice, but without Davies' sympathy for his characters.
Do I sound harsh on Binx? I think he's directionless to the point of stupor (how can he choose a direction until he knows what he's searching for?), but I tell you what, Lickona was right: He's not passive when it comes to the ladies. I like him a lot when he's trying to seduce his secretary. He's planning, scheming, strategizing -- he's ACTING, in the technical sense of the word. He determines his objective, he stages his scenario, he varies his tactics. He responds to the other in the scene and makes her respond to him. Of course he's playing a scene, like William Holden in the movies, and yet the thrill of having a scene to play animates him. Maybe it's because then he knows what he's searching for, even if it's a secondary objective.
And note that when he's in an open-ended scene, or a conversation where there's no clear goal, he withdraws into analyzing.
Look: I can't really engage with Kate. Percy seems to prefer these emotionally fragile heroines, but I like his more robust ladies. Example: Margot from Lancelot. (My favorite line from Lancelot is a description of Margot: "Her face was if anything more soft-eyed and voluptuous, as only a thirty-two-year-old woman can be voluptuous.") Margot is vibrant and loveable, even if she's also a sleazy adulterer. And come to that, Lancelot's problem is that he can't reconcile these two facets of his wife... but now we're discussing a different novel. So: Kate. She's bristly and unknowable and suffering from a serious depression, and I can be remotely sympathetic, but she's triggering my Binx-like remote observation tendencies.
Now you want the real heroine, the woman at the heart of the book (I say, being only halfway through)? It's Binx's mother, Anna. Hoo, I love dat woman, cher! She's buried a husband and two beloved older sons, and she still retains a strength and charm and vitality that Binx either lacks or chooses not to engage. I want to know this lady. I want to talk to her and live next door to her and watch her fish from the dock in the early sunlight and see how she handles her six remaining younger children from her second marriage. Binx may feel like she's put up a veneer of ordinariness, but I think she's just strong and funny and what his father needed to snap him out of himself. Binx need a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad.
Duval, Lonnie, Donice, Clairain, Mathilde, Therese, Jean-Paul: if I had read this book as a teenager, I think one of my children would bear one of these names now. Maybe I need to work a Clairain or Mathilde into the rotation here.