[percy-l] Section 3, LITR

Plemmons, Gregory gregory.plemmons at Vanderbilt.Edu
Mon Jul 14 17:13:01 EDT 2014

Regarding Charles's discussions about structure, I found them interesting to ponder, particularly in thinking about how the pieces of novels are put together--in which order things happen, or reveal. Traditionally, many novels have a climax at the middle, followed by a secondary climax, then resolution. This section is the shortest, however, and seems relatively void of tension or conflict, compared to the other sections so far, and clearly follows the campsite model more closely than the trail. Percy's novels, for me, have never been about plot (and this seems to pester a lot of non-Percy fans) but his beautiful prose and ideas have always been enough to pedal the flywheel to keep me suspended.

Yet, on reading it the second time, I see some subtle structural things at play. We move quickly from the external chaos of the early Seventies into the seemingly more organized chaos of Tom's mind and modern psychiatry. The narrative unfolds in flashback, although linear. We know where we start, but we're not sure how we're going to find ourselves exactly back at the Howard Johnson's when we're through, and I think that propels me along. I'm now in the Section Four, and more disturbed by the unreliable narrator than ever, which actually leads me to wonder if Tom's trip to church with his mother actually happened, or if perhaps it was a memory--I almost wondered if he if was given a pass to leave the unit to attend church and he's been hospitalized all along. It was fairly common at the time for patients to be granted a pass to leave the unit with family (although he never hints at this). But whose grace does Tom really have at this point but his mother? "We love those who know the worst of us and don't turn their faces away." I'd be curious to hear what others think. I was only six years old when this was first published, and I'm wondering what influence, if any, other novels may have had (Kesey's One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Plath's Bell Jar come to mind--both works I assume he would have been familiar with, by then).

Gregory Plemmons, MD

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