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Reading Walker Percy’s Novels

Jessica Hooten Wilson


Paperback: 168 pages
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publish Date: May 18, 2018
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0807168777
ISBN-13: 978-0807168776

Walker Percy (1916–1990) considered novels the strongest tool with which to popularize great ideas among a broad audience, and, more than half a century after they first appeared in print, his works of fiction continue to fascinate contemporary readers. Despite their lasting appeal, however, Percy’s engaging narratives also contain intellectual elements that demand further explication. Philosophical themes, including existentialism, language acquisition theory, and modern Catholic theology, provide a deeper layer of meaning in Percy’s writings.

Jessica Hooten Wilson’s Reading Walker Percy’s Novels serves as a companion guide for readers who enjoy Percy’s novels but may be less familiar with the works of Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, and Dante. In addition to clarifying Percy’s philosophies, Wilson highlights allusions to other writers within his narratives, addresses historical and political contexts, and provides insight into the creation and reception of The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome. An introduction covers aspects of Percy’s biography that influenced his writing, including his deep southern roots, faith, and search for meaning in life. An appendix offers an explanation of Percy’s satirical parody Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.

Written in an accessible and conversational style, this primer will appeal to everyone who appreciates the nuances of Walker Percy’s fiction.


Jessica Hooten Wilson is associate professor of literature at John Brown University and the author of Giving the Devil His Due: Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky and Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influence. Her research and teaching interests include Christianity and literature, especially Catholic writers and Russian novels.


Wilson explains with great clarity the larger imaginative patterns of Percy’s works as well as the related complexities that characterized his diagnosis of modern society.

— Patrick Samway, SJ, author of Walker Percy: A Life

The small size of Wilson’s primer on Walker Percy’s novels belies its largeness of vision. There are no neat plot summaries to excuse readers from wrestling hard with Percy’s five novels. On the contrary, she strikes right to their heart through succinct and sprightly analyses.

— Ralph Wood, author of Tolkien among the Moderns

Wilson has written an indispensable guide for literary searchers and spiritual pilgrims through the Percy canon. To read this book is to discover―or rediscover―why Walker Percy meant so much to twentieth-century fiction, and why his message matters even more to twenty-first-century readers.

— Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation