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Reviews351 short, despite the modernists' ambivalent portrayal of character—which for Head is unquestionably the primary subject matter of these stories—rigorous analysis remains possible. In the course of persuasive considerations of stories and collections byJames Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Wyndham Lewis, and Malcolm Lowry, Head convincingly argues that modernist stories are primarily characterized by a sense of tension or formal dissonance and disruption. As the authors build their characters and reveal their inadequacies through confused and often contradictory narratives and conflicting voices, they simultaneously comment on the distorting, damaging social influences that are responsible. For Head the resulting ambiguity does not come from "undecidability," but rather from particular contextual forces that bring complicated motivations and, indeed, intricate forms of consciousness. In varying ways, these authors express "a complex view of the interaction between individual experience and social organization" (p. 139). As Head situates the modernist short story in the "cultivation of paradox and ambiguity, and the fragmented view of personal identity" (p. 185), in the "emphasis on technique" and the "pursuit of social ends through formal experimentation " (p. 185), he admirably communicates the image of a genre that, for those who hold to simple definitions, has been problematized. His readings ofthe five authors that particularly interest him are excellent and should attract all serious students of the short story. University of KansasAllan H. Pasco Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life ofWalker Percy, byJay Toison; 544 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992, $27.50. In his Pensées, Pascal observes that all the unhappinesss of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quiedy in their own room. ForJay Toison, the life of Walker Percy—physician, philosopher, writer, and moralist—was heroic precisely because he gambled his existence on this implicit Pascaban challenge and overcame a death-haunted legacy of family, history, and culture. This superby written biography lucidly portrays Percy's struggle to find his own spiritual room in die chaotic twentieth century and transmit his prophetic vision to the world. Percy's story is a tale of survival and triumph through conversion. Born into awealthy, prominent Southern familyin 1916, he inherited a paradoxicallegacy of success and doom. While enormously successful in business and law, his 352Philosophy and Literature grandfather and father were burdened by an aristocratic stoical code of honor inadequate to the spiritual perplexities of modernity. Self-doubt and despair accompanied public success. In 1917 Percy's grandfather committed suicide; his father Leroy committed suicide in 1929; his mother Mattie Sue died under mysterious circumstances in a car wreck in 1932. Percy and his two younger brothers were then adopted and raised by William Alexander Percy, a dynamic planter, poet, and cultural leader of Mississippi Delta. In recounting Percy's early life Toison skillfully interprets personal events within the context of a changing Southern society, so that the psychic force ofPercy's inherited burden becomes palpable. Young Percy's real problem, of course, was how to live, or as he posed it later: "What do survivors do?" Personally he was shy, somewhatreclusive, acutely intelligent, and by turns brooding, friendly, and mordandy sardonic—a likely candidate for suicide. Percy's initial "solution" to his fate was to embrace a scientistic worldview that sustained him, not without doubt, through college at North Carolina and medical school at Columbia. But when stricken with tuberculosis in 1942, Percy experienced his first major conversion. From reading Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and others, he discovered that scientism could say nothing about a person's existence as an individual. The revelation induced a crisis of belief and vocation; when he recovered, Percy abandoned medicine as a career. Returning to die South, he subsequendy made three crucial "conversion" decisions that definitively shaped his life: he married Mary Bernice ("Bunt") Townsend; he became a Roman Catholic; and he decided to pursue writing as a vocation. Percy's conversions and discovery of his vocation did not absolve him from struggle against the personal and cultural acedia he inherited. He suffered relapses in health and periodic bouts of depression, along with spells of psychological withdrawal, moodiness, and irascibility. Yet throughout these struggles he was sustained by his religious faith, the love of his family, his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 351-353
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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