A lazy glance at the available Walker Percy criticism finds him often linked with other Southern writers, and most often hitched with Flannery O’Connor. That union doesn’t hold for me; while both write the wicked and wry, O’Connor strikes me as more garish and lurid–in good ways–while Percy’s humor tends to the deadpan side of the dial; plus, he will slow to build a scene, whereas O’Connor seems to get right to it.
If I were to write big on Percy’s The Last Gentleman I’d juxtapose it with Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Both were released in 1966, both were second novels, both feature extended road journeys, and both, today, seem honest records of life and lifestyles of respective coasts.
Oedipa’s trip, down-up-and down again California, and Barrett’s lollygagging around the coast from New York City to Georgia in a trailer truck, both seem to me searching tales of what fickle people call personal growth and experience. Oedipa is the sharper more confident of the two, while Barrett’s sexual shyness doesn’t preclude him from honest assessments of encounters.
I know Lot 49 better than Gentleman, but I’m certain a good work could be done on both–just in time for their respective 50th anniversaries.