I confess I've never read Walker Percy. I've heard how amazing he is, but felt somewhat intimidated for some strange reason. Can a Canadian read a Southern writer? Will the themes be too veiled? Everyone goes on and on about how brilliant he is, will I understand it at all?
So ridiculous literary intimidation aside, I picked up Love in the Ruins, even though it is subtitled The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World and I have a strong no apocalyptic reading personal policy. The story centres upon Thomas More, a scientist who has recently discovered a soul-healing machine that would in essence cure civilization from its spiritual malaise, unless it falls into the wrong hands. Political unrest abounds, society is lost, racism and religious division are everywhere. Tom lives with personal tragedy, and though he is romantically involved with three women he remains loyal to the true Catholic Church, not the American state sponsored "catholic church". The irony of his faith and relationship with God, and his lustful actions seems strange to those around him, and even himself. Yet he cannot separate himself from his belief and love of God and the Church even though he sees himself as a sinner.
Percy's writing of such complex topics is unbelievably light-hearted at times, funny, and at others piercingly tragic. I have a tendency to compare most novels to what I think is a perfect novel, The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. The beauty of The Man Who Was Thursday is that it is entertainingly written with a story that pulls the reader in but at the same time is really about something completely different from the actual story itself. The story ends up being about many different things. None of the least of which includes man's relationships with God which is also a pivotal in The Man Who Was Thursday. The genius of Love in the Ruins is the same as Chesterton's masterpiece; it is a well crafted story that is entertaining in of itself, yet is full of ideas and themes that endlessly explore the realities of life.
In other words I was pretty blown away by this book. Not only because of its fantastic development of themes involving man and God, prophetic visions of our own society from way back in the 70's when Percy wrote the novel, but the sheer enjoyment I got from reading it. No matter how many great themes a book can introduce, how cleverly it can conjure images of a not-so-distant future, or bring Catholic elements seamlessly into a plot line, what really matters in the end is if the book brought you enjoyment. And for that reason this book now sits among my classics.