[percy-l] the slow read of The Second Coming

Jim Forest jhforest at gmail.com
Tue Sep 6 09:03:33 EDT 2016

Thanks, Janet, for the last two contributions to the Second Coming
discussion -- very thorough summaries and great quotes from the book. I had
intended to respond to the first one sooner but domestic life has been
disrupted by Nancy breaking her right arm; she was knocked down by an
exuberant dog -- a Newfoundland of Viking descent -- while we were on
vacation in Norway.

Re section V of The Second Coming (pages 122-199):

I am struck by how passive Will Barrett tends to be -- he says “the only
time I knew what to do was when something bad happened to somebody.
Disaster gave me leave to act.” (122) Then on the next page: “Something had
given [Will] leave to live in the present … in the quiet center of
himself…. Not once had he been present for his life.” (Later on -- p 153 --
we learn that he married Marion “because he pleased her so much.”) Janet
quoted the haunting sentence that follows: "Is it possible for people to
miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?"

Then comes the great segment on funerals followed by this question: “Why is
it that without death one misses one’s life?” (124) And on the next page:
“How can it be that only with death and dying does the sharp quick sense of
life return?”

There is an Eden-like aspect to Second Coming -- the paradise greenhouse --
but it’s Eden after the Fall. Eden with death. Eden -- but with the
possibility of suicide. (How vividly Will’s Luger is described on p 131!)

There is Will’s realization is anger having been, up to now, the mainspring
of his life. (133) “You were possessed by anger … which in the end you
turned on yourself.” Later -- 171 -- Will asks the question: “Where does
such rage come from? From the discovery that in the end the world yields
only to violence, that only the violent bear it away, that short of
violence all is in the end impotence?” These are thoughts that make suicide

As I read it, the book’s pivotal question is: ”Do you believe in God?”
(136) Percy tucks this into a comic exchange with Episcopal priest Jack
Curl, who finds it embarrassing: “How’s that?” “You know, God.”

It really is a life-or-death question for Will as it was for Percy. Then 45
pages later (181) we find Will has come up with a way (his cave quest, but
as yet unrevealed to the reader) to force God’s hand -- to draw God out
from behind the curtain or not show up, in which case demonstrating that
there is nothing/noone behind the curtain. It’s nothing less than “one of
the strangest schemes ever hit upon by the mind of man.” Will decides that
his father’s suicide was wasted -- it failed to answer or even attempt to
answer the “are You there?” question. Either Will will pry a yes out of the
darkness of heaven or he will die of heaven’s silence. It’s “the ultimate
scientific experiment…. I aim to settle the question of God once and for
all.” (186)

Sadly Christians themselves, who “have killed off more people in recent
centuries than all other people put together” (188), fail to prove anything
for Will. (Great paragraphs follow on which are worse, the believers or the
unbelievers. They are “two classes of maniacs.” 190)

“So it was that Will Barrett went mad.” (197)

It is a madness, however, that leads to the greenhouse rather than the

I hope to carry on about pages 199 to 250 tomorrow or the next day.

Janet, I know you’re there. Anybody else?

Jim Forest

* * *

On Fri, Aug 26, 2016 at 4:52 AM, honeyjbc1 . <honeyjbc at gmail.com> wrote:

> Section V - takes us from pages 122 to 199.
> We leave Allison as she was preparing her way to freedom from the
> institution.
> This part is all Will Barrett.
> Jack Curl, another marvelous Percy character, the preacher who is
> supposed to conduct the ceremony for Will's daughter, Leslie's
> wedding, has a wish that Will spend some of his inheritance in a good
> deed scheme of  Marion's, a retirement village and faith community.
> Will's dead wife has left him millions.
> This entire section is musings on death and life and death in life. It
> bounces back and forth without warning between the present semi
> oblivion of Will and evocations of his father's suicide attempt.
> What is the past, is there a present and will there be a future? His
> daughter, Leslie's impending marriage also stirs questions.
> But the odd thing is as Will is asking these "deep" questions. Percy
> is whimsical in his writing so that the reader smiles, and even laughs
> along the way. There's a whole paragraph on funerals and why people
> like going to them on page 124 - such a solemn subject - but with the
> adorable Percy touch.
> Will wonders why he suddenly sees things more clearly than he has.
> Something has given him leave to live in the present - bottom of page
> 123. I am guessing it is Allison is entering his subconscious.
> When Percy was a teenager his parents took the family on a vacation in
> Germany, Hitler was in power but it was early days. The teenaged Percy
> was captivated by a Hitler Youth boy with his dashing looks and
> excellent uniform and pride. When Percy got home and later realized
> the horrors of what that youth really represented, Percy was haunted
> by his impressionistic self. It was an obsessive memory and he felt
> ashamed. In The Thanatos Syndrome a character spends a lot of time on
> a similar episode as Percy tried to atone for his gullibility.
> Here in this book we have on Page 132 again some thoughts on this
> subject in a smaller example. It ends with a letter Will has memorized
> from a Roman Centurian who expresses the hope that the deeds they do
> are for a higher goal. It is fascinating to read this letter in light
> of this incident in Percy's life.
> Once again Will wonders if the Jews' leaving is a sign. The way this
> is written, it is strangely funny at the same time as it is ominous.
> Will continues to look for answers. He questions the chaplain about
> religion and belief. The scene keeps shifting in Will's mind without
> any warning to the reader. from a conversation he is trying to engage
> himself in and reminders of his father's event with that shotgun.
> Looking for answers Will keeps going back to trying to figure out what
> his father was trying to tell him. There is much thought about the
> shells in the gun. Will figures out that his father's plan was to
> shoot Will and then himself. He failed on both counts, but his father
> finally did himself in later.
> Will figures out that his father was trying to prevent his son from
> suffering as he did in a world where there is no reason to go on.
> Will decides, he won't go that way. He will seek answers.
> This may relate to Percy's good acquaintance with so many people
> around him committing suicide and Percy decided that it was not going
> to happen to him.
> Lewis Peckham, the golf pro wonders if Will needs a psychiatrist
> because he seems depressed over the loss of his wife. He invites Will
> to listen to Beethoven. This is not inviting to Will and he makes the
> excuse that he has to return to the wedding preparations.
> Plans are being made for the wedding and all parties to the occasion are
> there.
> We met Kitty and her husband in the last section when they visited
> Allison. It turns out that Kitty was an old "flame" of Will's. Kitty
> was a character in The Last Gentlemen.
> Kitty flirts with Will and arranges to meet him later for perhaps a
> rendezvous. (Oy, she is Allison's mother.)
> She tells Will. "You must meet my daughter. I know you could help her."
> Will feels bad that he wasn't good father, what with his fade outs,
> whatever is causing them. While his daughter, Leslie, is not happy
> about those episodes, she tells him, "You always turned up when I
> needed you."
> He takes his leave saying goodbye and taking a long look at her. This
> seems ominous.
> Leslie is deep in preparation for her wedding. Kitty has left for her
> rendezvous with Will.
> Resolving to meet Kitty, he falls down some steps on his way. Ewell
> McBee confronts him and harangues him about what a snob he is. Will is
> bleeding and McBee doesn't notice because he is wrapped up in his
> diatribe. He wants Will to invest in his blue movies.There will be a
> couple of girls there for them, one is Jewish. (The Jews haven't all
> left?)
> Will thinks again about his father.
> Will has an epiphany. Maybe his father was right in choosing to kill him.
> Okay, Will gets an idea.
>  Kitty had mentioned Dr. Sutter Vaught, someone we meet in The Last
> Gentleman, the other novel involving Will Barrett.
> Will writes two letters. One is to Lewis Peckham that he would love to
> come listen to music with him. And the other to Vaught with a
> complicated series of instructions for him to carry out if he hasn't
> heard from Will within  three weeks. One wonders what Sutter will make
> of this goofy letter.
> Will is going  to put G-d to the test. If He exists and cares, he will
> give a sign.
> Thus ends part V.
> Some things I liked:
> Reading these pages, one is tempted to write about every sentence.
> There is so much wonderful observation, philosophy, wit and beautiful
> characterization, and the writing is masterful all the way.
> I will only choose to notice a few things.
> Here we go again. Page 122 - bright sunlight races like quicksilver
> around the beveled glass of a door. Page 130 - A shaft of light
> strikes his hand refracted by a prism. This kind of thing repeats
> often in Percy as I mentioned last time.
> Again on Page 122 - The only time Will knows what to do is when
> something happens to somebody; disaster gives him leave to act.
> Another common theme.
> Page 137 - more crow's feet iron out on a face. Percy likes this image.
> I liked the question on page 124, "Is it possible for people to miss
> their lives in the same way one misses a plane?"
> I like this - "We're the once born in a world of twice born." and the
> rest of that paragraph on page 151.
> I hope others decide to join in the discussion.
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just out:

*The Root of War is Fear: Thomas Merton's Advice to Peacemakers:*

recent books:

*Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment: *
*Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins: *

*Books in print*: www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/
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*Photo albums*: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/albums
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*Jim & Nancy Forest*
Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands

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