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Subject: Percy-L: Literary, Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Discussion on Walker Percy

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  • From: "janetcantor37 AT" <janetcantor37 AT>
  • To: percy lists <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: [percy-l] My book group discussed The Thanatos Syndrome
  • Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2012 07:23:24 -0700 (PDT)

If anyone is interested in more details than I am including here about the discussion of this book, write me and I will be glad to give you whatever you like. This is only a small sample of what occurred.

My book group went well. What I did to them was difficult. Instead of just leading a usual discussion where I asked questions about the story and characters and they answered, since this book is of so many layers, I did a technical analysis based on text and also showed how this story recapitulates Percy's life. For the purposes of this type of discussion, I didn't allow opinions, only technical things.

There is, I believe, no book group in the world who would have born so patiently the drudgery I put them through. They should be given kudos. They were intelligent in their responses to my questions and attentive all through my strictly structured discussion and they tried not to introduce digressions. By the end they did get what I was driving at.They understood that I was showing them things about Percy's genius that they would have missed in a one time reading of the novel.

I spent a lot of time on the way Percy repeats certain metaphors to underscore the main themes. One example of this is that light and dark are in dozens of lines throughout the book. Often dark swallows light. This  could represent  the blacks and whites in the south and their special relationship. Is it Tom, the white employer, who has the upper hand or Hudeen? But when Tom needs help, he can rely on Chandra and Hudeen perfectly.

But more importantly these lines are repeatedly in the text for  the major theme of good and evil and how personal definitions of each are not always correct ones. I quoted the passage from Isaiah "Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness..." And I stressed the throwaway line when Van Dorn and Tom are fishing and Van Dorn suggests cutting away the trees to see the sunfish better and Tom tells him that then they would all swim away, "You don't mess with light and dark," Tom tells him.

And I spent a lot of time on the pages where Comeaux turns on the radio in his car and Strauss waltzes underscore his rhapsodies about Blue Boy; and the music rises to a crescendo as Comeaux's passionate explanations reach an apogee. There are so  many layers of things going on in that scene:

The would be V's of the ironed out crowsfeet at the bottom of 188 give a hint to the broken V of the group of Ibis Tom notices while he is feigning interest in Comeaux's attempt at seduction for the "Blue Boy" project. Tom, anxious to get on with solving the mystery, absently notices the birds which go from a broken V (not perfect because there is something not quite right about Comeaux's ideals), to confetti (there is something haphazard in Comeaux's reasoning) and finally to plopping into the woods below (forget it - the whole idea must be stopped.) This whole scene and the book cries out for  filming. It is hilarious and terrifying at the same time. But mostly hilarious. Too bad no one made a movie of this book.

As I said, this is only a smidgin of the discussion and the two hour discussion represents only a drop in the bucket of what I could have given them.

At bottom, this book, which I considered on first reading messy and poorly edited, improves immensely on successive readings. The more I read it the less fault I was able to find with it. Percy, in his inimitable manner, took a dead serious subject and a seminal experience from his own life and framed it in a gripping suspense story with hilarious content.

Janet Cantor

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