two years in a TB sanatorium at SaranacrnLake, New York, where he had httle torndo but read and think. Putting aside hisrnmedical books, Percy turned to philosophyrnand literature; according to ShelbyrnFoote (who visited him there), “Walkerrnwas holding on to those books for dearrnlife.” While his greatest influence fromrnthis time was Kierkegaard, Percy alsornread Heidegger, Marcel, Sartre, Camus,rnMann, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, amongrnothers. Kierkegaard’s statement thatrnHegel “explained everything under thernsun, except one small detail: what itrnmeans to be a man living in the worldrnwho must die” was crucial to Percy’srnemerging shift in thought, since it pinpointedrnthe single shortcoming of sciencernand medicine that made all the difference.rnAfter leaving “The San,” Percyrnspent another four months in a Connecticutrnsanatorium before being releasedrnfor good.rnDislodged from his old life and atrnloose ends with regard to a new one, Percyrnstopped briefly in Greenville beforernheading west in search of a good climaternand the answers to questions over whichrnhe had long been brooding. At a dudernranch in Santa Fe, he settled on thernpaths he wanted to take. He decided tornbecome a Catholic; to marry BuntrnTownsend, a young woman he hadrnknown for several years; and to give uprnmedicine in order to write.rnFollowing a simple wedding in NewrnOrleans on November 6, 1946, and almostrna year’s stay at Brinkwood (the Percyrnsummer house near Sewanee, Tennessee),rnthe couple returned to NewrnOrleans where they began instruction inrnCatholicism. Reticent to explain hisrnconversion, Percy usually replied, “Whatrnelse is there?” In a more serious moment,rnhowever, he confided to an interviewer,rn”I took it as an intolerable state ofrnaffairs to have found myself in this lifernand in this age, which is a disaster by anyrncalculation, without demanding a giftrncommensurate with the offense. So I demandedrnit.” During this stay in New Orleans,rnPercy discovered the works ofrnCharles Sanders Peirce, an Americanrnsemiodcian and philosopher. Peirceanrntheory proved to be an abiding interestrnand formed the basis of much of Percy’srnown work in semiotics. It was also duringrnthis time that Percy began trying inrnearnest to write, though his resolve wasrnundermined to some extent by his lovernfor New Orleans, a city rich in distracdons.rnIn “New Orleans: Mon Amour,”rnPercy says New Orleans is what yournwould get if “Marseilles had beenrnplucked up off the Midi, monkeyed withrnby Robert Moses and Hugh Hefner, andrnset down off John O’Croats in Scotland.”rnWhen life there proved “too seductive,”rnhe, his wife, and their newly adopted babyrndaughter, Mary Pratt, moved to Covington,rna small town outside of New Orleansrnreputed (falsely) to be the “secondrnhealthiest place in the world” and a placernPercy felt would be congenial to hisrnhealth, his wridng, and his religion. Sevenrnyears after Mary Pratt’s adoption, therncouple were surprised by the birth of arndaughter whom they named Ann Boyd.rnWhen they discovered that Ann wasrndeaf, the Percys devoted unlimited timernand travel to seeking special teachers andrnprograms for her. Although Percy had alreadyrnbegun his investigations into semiotics,rnAnn’s deafness intensified hisrnstudy.rnWalker Percy was in some ways a manrnparadoxically divided between his desirernto be part of a group and his need forrnprivacy. He joined a college fraternity;rnhe was a member of a church, lunchrngroups, and book clubs; he settled in arnCatholic community; he was the fatherrnof a debutante; and though uncomfortablerninstructing, he sought teaching opportunitiesrnmostiy for the company suchrngatherings provided. Yet while seekingrncongenial society in religious, social, andrnliterary contexts, Percy remained somewhatrndistant and self-contained. Despiternefforts to immerse himself in the outsidernworld, his natural reserve combined withrnhis intellectual singularity worked to ensurernthat Percy remained essentiallyrnapart, even (or especially) in his ownrnhamlet. As he became increasingly disenchantedrnwith the town, he liked tornjoke, “though I have lived in Covingtonrn30 years, the Budweizer distributor is betterrnknown.”rnWhen queried about the possibilitiesrnof writing a memoir, Percy said hern”couldn’t think of anything more boring.”rnIf his life in Covington was to arnlarge degree predictable, it hardly seemsrnto have been boring, considering the vitalityrnof his intellectual and creative existence.rnThe achievements of his writingrncareer alone are considerable: six novelsrnand two books of essays. In 1962, he wonrnthe National Book Award for The Moviegoerrnand invitations, appointments, honoraryrndegrees, and other prizes followed.rnHaving received unstinting support fromrnwriters such as Shelby Foote, JeanrnStafford, and Caroline Cordon, Percyrnwas generous in assisting other writersrnand students of literature. Most notablernwas his pivotal role in getting A Confederacyrnof Dunces, a novel by deceased authorrnJohn Kennedy O’Toole, published.rnIronically, the book went on to win arnPulitzer, a prize that eluded Percy.rnFiction writing was Percy’s naturalrnmetier, but he did not settle into it altogetherrncomfortably. Although his greatestrnachievements were literary, he seemsrnto have derived the most satisfactionrnfrom his philosophical essays on languagernand symbol. When FlanneryrnO’Connor complimented him on ThernMoviegoer and told him to “make up anotherrnstory,” her words struck a chordrnand perhaps had a different effect thanrnwhat she had intended. In his letters,rnPercy refers more than once to her commentrnand expresses doubt about thernlegitimacy of “making up stories” asrnthough it were somehow an unworthyrnoccupation for a grown man. In suchrnmoments of insecurity, Percy obviouslyrnyearned for the comfort, the definition,rnand the routine of a “real job” or “regularrnwork.” At other times, he expresses suchrnmisgivings in terms of being torn betweenrn”thinking” (his serious work in linguistics)rnand “imagining” (“making uprnstories”). Even his particular brand ofrnfiction—stories that work didactically tornsome greater good—reflect the author’srnpragmatic bent. Thus, though he eschewedrnmedicine as an occupation, Percyrnremained at heart a doctor, a man interestedrnin effecting cures.rnPatiick Samway’s Walker Percy: A Lifernis a dutiful compilation of data, butrnthe biographer does not accomplishrnenough with his material. We learn ofrnPercy’s struggles with depression, hisrndouble with alcohol, the dry spells in hisrnmarriage, but these difficulties never becomernsubstantially real. Part of the problemrnis that Samway’s prose style oftenrnlacks clarity and coherence. While thernbiographer provides ample facts, hernseems at a loss where application andrnsummation are concerned. His few attemptsrnat interpretation result in feeblernbanalities. Commenting on Percy’srnkiller concentration, Samway says: “Hernfound solace in the written word andrncould imaginatively explore the unknownrnworlds that books offer. In particular,rnWalker seems to have understoodrnthat poetry and fiction give us the secondrnchance that life seems to deny us.” SuchrnAPRIL 1998/27rnrnrn