To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
I don’t read a lot of fiction at all, but this is one of my favorite books, and I haven’t read it since I was a newlywed. Folding down favorite pages while balancing on the subway on my commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, it quickly became one of my favorite books.
Using a voice slightly reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in the Catcher in the Rye, but less dreary, older/wiser, more hopeful and truly unique, and a backdrop of New Orleans-think French Quarter balconies and melancholic Southern charm with an edge, Percy touches upon the deepest questions of life:
“But this morning when I got up, I dressed as usual and began as usual to put my belongings into my pockets: wallet, notebook (for writing down occasional thoughts), pencil, keys, handkerchief, pocket slide rule (for calculating percentage returns on principal). They looked both unfamiliar and at the same time full of clues. I stood in the center of the room and gazed at the little pile, sighting through a hole made by thumb and forefinger. What was unfamiliar about them was that I could see them. They might have belonged to someone else. A man can look at this little pile on his bureau for thirty years and never once see it. It is as invisible as his own hand. Once I saw it, however, the search became possible.”
“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
I didn’t reread the book in its entirety, but I did skim through it the first year after my husband died. I knew I would find something there for my own search, and I did. Loss too makes everything look “unfamiliar and at the same time full of clues.” It does, I suppose, make the search and the seeking possible.
It is jarring, but a good idea, to see your own intimate belongings, your own self even, as unfamiliar every now and then, to not be so sunk in the everydayness of our own lives, to be “on to something,” as Percy says.