The Moviegoer tells the story of Binx Bolling, a New Orleans stockbroker struggling with the malaise of modernity and a nagging thirst for redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. He woos his secretary, falls in love with his cousin, and muses on the nature of his search for meaning. Percy writes, “To become aware of the possibility of a search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
Bolling is an instantly relatable character. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday he feels adrift. He busies himself with chasing after women and going to movies, which provide him with the “treasurable moments” missing from his actual life, but one Mardi Gras he sets out on a quest for something more which threatens his typical American existence.
Percy’s prose captures the sense of being alive and yet being unable to find any purpose or joy in living. He writes of the empty feeling so many Americans have intimately known, despite having all their basic material needs met. He writes:
“On the way home the MG becomes infested with malaise. It’s not unexpected, since Sunday afternoon is always the worst time for malaise. Thousands of cars are strung along the Gulf Coast, whole families, and all with same vacant headachy look. There is an exhaust fume in the air and the sun strikes the water with a malignant glint. A fine Sunday afternoon, though, a beautiful boulevard, ten thousand handsome cars, fifty thousand handsome, well-fed and kind-hearted people, and the malaise settles on us like a fall-out.
Sorrowing, hope against hope, I put my hand on the thickest and innerest part of Sharon’s thigh.
She bats me away with new vigor.
‘Son, don’t you mess with me.’
‘Very well, I won’t,’ I say gloomily, as willing not to mess with her as to mess with her, to tell the truth.”