The Sage of Covington

In the Introduction to Walker Percy Remembered, David Horace Harwell explains that he began his project with the idea of writing a conventional biography of Percy, one that would explore some fresh aspect of the novelist’s life.  Then, as the research unfolded, he “found the form that best suits Percy.”  The result is what Harwell calls a “community biography,” a collection of interviews with Percy’s friends, acquaintances, and family members.  A “community biography” strikes me as a suspect notion.  If one assumes that a biography is an attempt, however inevitably flawed, to write a coherent account of a person’s life, then it is difficult to see how a miscellany of interviews, even when conducted by the same interviewer, can amount to a biography, communal or otherwise.  Moreover, Harwell’s approach works at cross purposes.  On the one hand, he attempts to bring some thematic coherence to most of these 13 interviews by focusing his questions especially on Percy’s involvement in the community of Covington, the Louisiana town on the north shore of Lake Pont-char-train where he lived for the final decades of his life.  On the other, Harwell gives his interviewees free rein to ramble on at length about anything they please—which, more often than not, turns out to be themselves.  Thus, Harwell’s attempts to maintain thematic...

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