Uncanny Parallels between The Moviegoer and Up in the Air

Henry P. Mills wpercy1 at mail.ibiblio.org
Sat Apr 20 10:52:24 EDT 2002

Dear Percy-L:

This in from George Wickham of Richmond, Virginia
<gwickham at collegiate-va.org>, regarding parallels between Walter Kirn's _Up
in the Air_ and The Moviegoer. Anyone care to comment? Thanks for sharing
this with us, George.

Henry Mills

Dear Mr. Mills:

I am a middle school English teacher in Richmond, Virginia and a devoted
admirer of Walker Percy's books (which inspired me to climb out of an
18-year rut of a legal career and into teaching).  I recently read _Up in
the Air_ by Walter Kirn (featured on the cover of the "New York Times Book
Review," July 8, 2001).  After finishing the book I was struck by the
similarities between Ryan Bingham (the protagonist in Up in the Air) and
Binx Bolling of _The Moviegoer_.

Here are the parallels between the two characters -- and the books -- that I
found.  I thought you and others involved in the study of Percy's work might
be intrigued.

Both characters are male, unmarried, thirty-something, first person
narrators who work in the business world.

Both characters tell their story of a single, transformational week in their
lives (Bolling, the week before Mardi Gras, and Bingham, a week of business
travel), which for each leads to a career change.

Both characters have left their "native" worlds: Bolling has left the Garden
District of New Orleans for a surreal suburb, and Bingham has given up his
apartment altogether for the surreal Airworld.

Both characters have genuine relationships with children, which they can't
seem to duplicate with friends and family.  (Bolling with his half-siblings
and Bingham with the children of his old girlfriend, Linda).

Both characters confess to a personal radio fetish.  (Bolling with the "This
I Believe" radio show and Bingham with christian rock).

Both characters are scheduled to speak at business conferences, and both are
no-shows.  Both seem to be good at their jobs but are "not fully present" in
their work.

Both characters have old girlfriends named Linda.

Both characters have sisters (Bolling's is a step-sister) who are engaged
and who break the engagement (The Moviegoer) or go AWOL (Up in the Air)
before their weddings. Both characters travel with their "sisters" in the
post engagement/AWOL period.  There is actual romantic and sexual
involvement between Binx and his step-sister in The Moviegoer, and a
reference to a strong attraction between brother and sister in Up in the

Both books have scenes in which a real-life character enters the fictional
action and casts his "aura" about the scene. (William Holden in The
Moviegoer and Norman Schwarskopf in Up in the Air).

Both characters suffer from memory loss or catatonic states.  The love
interests of both characters take pills.  Both characters have the "bing"
sound in their names (Bin[g]x Bolling and Ryan Bingham).

In Up in the Air, Bingham is writing a book (The Garage) which is a knock
off on a book that another character in Up in the Air has written (The
Basement).  Could this be a nod by Kirn to The Moviegoer?

I'd be curious as to your thoughts (or those of your colleagues) on these
parallels if you have an opportunity to read Up in the Air.


                George Wickham

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