(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Offered as a tongue-in-cheek, pre-holocaust tale, Love in the Ruins is subtitled The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World. Its protagonist and narrator, Dr. Tom More, is named for the famous sixteenth century saint who authored Utopia (1516). More is a rueful psychologist who has developed an instrument for research which he calls the “lapsometer.” The lapsometer is a device that measures certain psychic forces in the brain and thereby makes it possible to determine the source of irrationality, which for Percy is characterized by one of two extremes.

In Percy’s view, the two most evident maladies of modern life are angelism, the tendency to abstract oneself from the ordinary circumstances of life and attempt to live above them in aloof intellectualism, and bestialism, the tendency to live as a brute consumer with an unrestrained, animal-like preoccupation with sex without procreation. This protracted indictment of modern culture surfaces frequently in Percy’s later fiction, most prominently in Lancelot and in The Thanatos Syndrome.

The narrative is bracketed into five main sections, followed by an epilogue that delineates what has happened in the five years subsequent to the July 4 climax. It is an apocalyptic time in which the social institutions that are supposed to provide stability and continuity have broken down or become ridiculous parodies of themselves. The halls of academe, the medical profession, civil government, and a host of venerable religious institutions, particularly the Catholic Church, are all satirized as ineffectual and compromised, each having sold out to the spirit of modernism and therefore being contemptible to Percy.

Racial tensions have erupted into violent confrontations as the very fabric of American society is about to unravel. Under the accumulated weight of centuries of guilt and alienation, “ordinary folk” find their self-image slowly disintegrating, their sex...

(The entire section is 823 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

On July 4, Dr. Thomas More, with a carbine on his knees, sits in a pine grove on the southwest cusp of the decaying interstate cloverleaf. A sniper has shot at him earlier in the day, and from this point he commands a view of all four directions. In one quadrant is the city, inhabited largely by conservative Christian businessmen; in another, the Paradise Estates, a suburb where he ordinarily lives in a house inherited from his deceased wife. In still another direction, there is the federal complex, which includes the hospital where the narrator works, a medical school, the NASA facility, the Behavioral Institute, the Geriatrics Center, and the Love Clinic. In the remaining quadrant, the huge Honey Island swamp shelters assorted social rebels and castoffs: white derelicts, young dropouts pursuing love, drugs, and the simple life, and ferocious black Bantus, who use the swamp as guerrilla base for launching raids against outlying suburbs and shopping centers.

Immediately below Dr. More’s lookout post, an old, abandoned Howard Johnson’s motel, long deserted after a devastating raid in years past, is a temporary shelter for Dr. More’s two girlfriends, Moira and Lola, and his loyal nurse, Ellen, whom he also loves. The action of the novel covers, in retrospect, the preceding four days, during which this awkward personal and public crisis came to a head.

The amiable Dr. More, though hardly responsible for the persistent failure of American society to eradicate racial inequality and bigotry, does nevertheless share some obscure guilt for the peculiarly volatile situation on this particular day. He...

(The entire section is 663 words.)