One Way Out

Walker Percy: Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; New York.


So too it may be useful to write a novel about the end of the world. Perhaps it is only through the conjuring up of catastrophe, the destruction of all Exxon signs, and the sprouting of vines in the church pews, that the novelist can make vicarious use of catastrophe in order that he and his readers may come to themselves.


-The Message in the Bottle


Although Lost in the Cosmos is not a novel in the sense that Walker Percy's earlier Love in the Ruins is, both conjure up catastrophe. (Lost in the Cosmos is, however, a fiction, both in terms of its invented persona and its structure.) In all his work Percy has been concerned with eschatology. More than any major writer of his time, he has been haunted by an intuition of the end of things as we know them. That sensibility has led him to conjure up visions of catastrophe in the hope of teaching a lesson. Instead of this concern leading to suicide, the option with which some of his characters have been greatly preoccupied, it has made Percy a novelist-prophet, "one of the few remaining witnesses to the doctrines of original sin, the imminence of catastrophe in paradise."


The novelist writes about the coming end in order to warn about present ills and so avert the end. Not being called by God to be a prophet, he nevertheless...

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