Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy: Review

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On a friend’s recommendation, I have just finished Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins (1971), a postmodern, late Southern Gothic novel I’d call nominally science fiction in that it is set in the very near future (from the 1970s) and has speculative technology and social changes, but only as a thin veneer for talking about contemporary life. It features the adventures of single, first-person POV character Tom More, a fallen Catholic and psychiatrist trying to navigate his own life and the sociocultural disintegration of the United States. Stylistically, it reminds me a lot of Catch-22, though it is a bit less zany. I am not the target reader, and people who like the postmodern novel or are devotees of the Southern Gothic style may be more satisfied with it than I was. I found it okay, and I’ll go through some pros and cons for me.

Pros: As many have noted, the book is prophetic about the breakdown of the US into leftwing and rightwing politicized tribes, though the story doesn’t delve into this much. The point may be there’s not much difference beneath the surface. The main character is interesting and somewhat sympathetic: he’s a good man, well aware that he has given up and given into sin, as he sees it (drinking, sex, and malaise), and his underlying will to do good and his capacity to love grounds what would otherwise be a painfully superficial story. Percy has a good command of his prose style and his descriptions and dialogue both read well. There is some interesting and sometimes trenchant racial commentary. The book is successful at making the United States and its people look ridiculous and in decline, which was clearly a goal, and sometimes this is done with genuine wit and irony.

Cons: I find the book too long. It seems to me the story could have been told in about 200 rather than 400 pages. There is a great deal of repetition of meeting absurd characters and having absurd chats. I may be missing genre cues (or Catholic cues) but the character development evident in the epilogue felt unearned to me. I felt little character arc, just sudden transformation. Maybe it was divine grace? Read more… )

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Arwen Spicer
Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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