Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman

Rereading the other 5 novels Percy wrote–not a fan of The Moviegoer, a novel I’ve read twice and remember nothing about–and going through the books in order, starting with novel number 2, The Last Gentleman. I love Percy’s deadpan humor and wonder about his place in American letters. He is so good and funny and “classic” and that he published in the era of Pynchon means he is likely thought of as a lesser talent. Not so, not with writing this good:

So well did he adapt that it always came as a surprise when two groups who got along with him did not get along with each other. For example, he had fallen in with an interracial group which met at a writer’s apartment in the Village on Friday nights. It did not strike him as in the least anomalous that on Saturday night he met with the Siberian Gentlemen, a nostalgic supper club of expatriate Southerners, mostly lawyers and brokers, who gathered at the Carlyle and spoke of going back to Charleston or Mobile. At two or three o’clock in the morning somebody would sigh and say, “You can’t go home again,” and everybody would go back to his Park Avenue apartment. One night he made the mistake of bringing a friend from the first group to the second, a Southerner like himself but a crude sort who had not yet mastered group skills and did not know the difference between cursing the governor of Virginia, who was a gentleman, and cursing the governor of Alabama, who was not. Thereafter the Siberians grew cool to him and he dropped out. Nor did he fare much better with the interracial group. On his way home from the Village, he was set upon by Harlem thugs in the park and given the beating of his life. When he related the incident at the next meeting his friends frowned and exchanged glances.

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