Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Being Present for Your Life

The Second Coming
The Second Coming 

“How did it happen that now he could see everything so clearly. Something had given him leave to live in the present. Not once in his entire life had he come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself from some dark past he could not remember to a future that did not exist. Not once had he been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream. Is it possible for people to miss their lives the way one can miss a plane?”   ― Walker Percy, The Second Coming

What is wrong with Will Barrett? He is depressed and his golf game is off kilter. He has a sort of falling down sickness and that theme pervades this tale of revelation and change in the life of this widower who has become a somewhat different person than the young seeker whose story was told in The Last Gentleman.

In this, his fifth novel, Walker Percy once again surveys the themes of alienation, from self and from God, and dissatisfaction with the commercialism of modern American life. This book, while filled with realistic details about life in North Carolina in the 1980s, is able to speak to twenty-first century readers with its existential approach to life's problems. Many of the people Will encounters, and there are some memorable side characters like a chaplain whose belief is somewhat doubtful, remind me of the mediocre Christians who provided fodder for the commentaries of thinkers like Kierkegaard. We find Percy asking the important question whether people may be missing their own lives while going through the motions like shopping or wasting away on the local golf course.

At the center of the novel Will has an epiphany of sort that leads him to a fall that becomes a catalyst for a new life - a new relationship both for him and for a young woman named Allison who has her own psychological baggage. It was somewhat ironic, however, that Will's fall was due in part to his hubristic demand that 
he would commit suicide if God did not reveal himself. And even more ironic was that this demand led Will closer to being present for his own life than ever before.

Best of all is the way that Percy packages the story - in two parts that fit together so well that this may be his best novelistic effort. It certainly rivals the brilliance of his premiere effort of The Moviegoer. As a reader I was thankful that he returned to Will Barrett and found a way to tell a story of second chances and new love wrapped in an elegant package. The existence of god in the life of Will Barrett is brought home in a more thorough way here than in The Last Gentleman. I found it a transformation made possible by a reasonable belief.

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