June 16, 2011 by Reader's Connection
Dr. Tom More (yes, he´s related in some way to the other Thomas More) is spending his 4th of July by the old abandoned Howard Johnson motel, armed and ready for action. A sniper has been gunning for him. Perhaps. Three of the old motel rooms are currently occupied by a woman for whom Tom feels some tenderness.
Three women. Wanted to make sure I got that straight.
Our story is set in some unspecified future, after the country has fractured along racial and religious and political lines. Tom has invented the ontological lapsometer, a sort of geiger counter for the human psyche. At the moment it can only do readings, but he’s hoping it can be used as a healing tool, and that the USA will come back together when our souls are healed.
But someone has stolen a bunch of lapsometers and fixed them up to do healings. Folks are behaving strangely.
I had loved Walker Percy’s first two novels, The Moviegoer and The Last Gentleman, and was disappointed in 1971 when Love in the Ruins:The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time near the End of the World appeared. I thought he had lost his footing, and was embarrassed by his potshots at Portnoy’s Complaint and other celebrated fiction of the period.
But I bought a cheapie paperback in the lobby, a couple weeks ago, and now, forty years later, I’m enjoying this pseudo-science-fictional romp. Percy was a doctor, himself–or had the education, but never practiced. With Tom More as his narrator, he can play doctor and offend every reader.
Here he is in the swamp, after helping a love couple whose baby had been dehydrated. Ethel, the skeptical mom, wants More to do a lapsometer reading. Chuck, the dad, is hopped up on Choctaw cannibis. There’s some bad language in this passage. Fair warning.
“She’s got a strong amplitude and high millivoltage over the temporal lobe, Brodmann 28, which correlates in my experience with singular concrete historical awareness, vivid childhood memories, you know, as well as a sense of the uniqueness of one’s tradition. But see here: an even stronger reading over parietal love, Brodmann 18. That’s the site of ahistorical perceptions that are both concrete and abstract. You should be an excellent artist, Ethel.”
“You see there, Ethel! She is, Doc.”
“Tch,” says Ethel sourly. “I’ve got the same thing from fortune cookies.”
“Are you Jewish, Ethel?”
“What? Yes. What do you mean by asking?”
“You exhibit here what I have termed contradictory Judaism.”
“What in hell do you mean?” Ethel swings around on her knees and looks at me squarely for the first time.
“Because you believe at one and the same time that the Jews are unique and that they are not. Thus you would be offended if a Jew told you the Jews were chosen by God, but you would also be offended if a non-Jew told you they were not.”
“You hear that, Ethel,” yells Chuck, beginning to jump again. “Why only last week–”
Ethel has picked up my lapsometer. “You better take Dr. More home,” she tells Chuck without taking her eyes from me.
“O.K, honey, but I mean, gee–Look, I’m sorry, Doc–”
“I’m not listening to some bastard tell me I have a Jewish brain.”
“Well actually,” I tell Ethel, “I show the same reading, believing as I do both that God–” I stop, mouth wide open. “Look out!–don’t throw it!–Jesus!–”
There is also a paperback copy in our collection.