Walker Percy, the writer who penned "The Moviegoer," "Lancelot," and "Love in the Ruins," to name a few, had family, fate and illness working against him. But he had faith, and that was likely what spared him. Word on Fire contributor Father Damian Ference examines Percy's life on today's blog, a launching point for our next Book Club selection, "Love in the Ruins."
If anyone should have killed himself, it should have been Walker Percy. After all, suicide ran in his family and it went back generations. One Percy overdosed on morphine—another jumped into a creek with a sugar kettle tied around his neck. Even Percy’s grandfather took his life. And when Walker was only 13 years old, his own father shot himself dead in the attic of the family home.
It gets worse.
Three years after Percy’s father died, Percy’s mother drove off a road into a creek and drowned. Walker was driving down that same road, just a few minutes behind the wreck. When he saw the crowd gathered around the scene, he jumped out of his car and tried to get close, but the bystanders held him back from the horror. Some called it a terrible accident, but others whispered “suicide.” Just before he turned 16, Walker Percy was an orphan.
Percy and his two young brothers were taken in by their uncle, Will Percy, who was a proud Southerner, a Renaissance man and a Roman Catholic. (Percy’s parents were nominal Presbyterians, but he and his brothers were never baptized—they were raised agnostic.) Uncle Will introduced the boys to great books, he read them poetry, encouraged them to write, and wanted them to experience the world, especially the South. Walker was the most receptive to Uncle Will’s formation, and continued his formal education at the University of North Carolina.
Walker Percy had a very successful college career at UNC, and although he loved reading novels and writing, he was convinced that the answers to life’s deepest questions would not be found in the liberal arts, but in science. Moreover, he thought he needed to get out of the South in order to find himself, so he enrolled in the School of Medicine at Columbia University and also began psychotherapy in order to address the suicidal tendencies in his family...