Love in the Ruins, The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, by Walker Percy. Published in 1971, a very good year!
Dr. Thomas More lives in Paradise, Louisiana. He was a devout Catholic and psychiatrist whose wife left him and ran off with a hippie “prophet” to live on a commune some time after the death of their beloved and only child, a daughter.
A self-described “bad Catholic” and rightly so, More picks up what is left of his life, continued his much needed psychiatric practice, and found three equally appealing women with which he divides his time when he isn’t drinking or working:
“Why did God make women so beautiful and man with such a loving heart?”
America for the most part is a very fractured place. In fact it seems to be coming apart at the seams. Deep fissures abound every where you look: political, ethnic, religious, economic, and every other way you can imagine. Everyone seems particularly okay with this. A brief description of what has happened to More’s beloved Church paints a vivid picture:
“Our Catholic church here split into three pieces: (1) the American Catholic Church whose new Rome is Cicero, Illinois; (2) the Dutch schismatics who believe in relevance but not God; (3) the Roman Catholic remnant, a tiny scattered flock with no place to go. The American Catholic Church, which emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin mass and plays The Star-Spangled Banner at the elevation.”
In fact, More is the only one who seems to notice how screwed up everyone is, and he believes his invention can fix what’s left of the insane minds of those around him. His work is primarily focused on a potentially Nobel prize winning invention which he believes will cure what ails the extremely sick culture in which he lives. He calls his invention an Ontological Lapsometer, and as it turns out, there is one other person who believes he’s on to something and is trying to acquire the machine for nefarious ends.
This book is not a classic literary masterpiece as such things are measured, but I love the book. The writing style is as fractured and scattered as the times in which Percy is describing, and it fits. It’s crazy while making the most perfect sense.
I shouldn’t even like the hero, seeing as he is a womanizing, alcohoilc Catholic and I’m a teetotalling Protestant. However, as the only person in the room who sees the insanity for what it is, you can’t help but root for him even as you know that what ails the people is far deeper than anything he can stimulate in their brains.
More than that, I appreciated the foresight Walker Percy showed for what happens to a people with no common sense of history or faith. His book reads like a foreboding. In the early 70’s the fact that our country was fractured was something many people could see. Now we accept it for just the way things are.
There is a lot more I could say about this book, not the least of which is the irony of the woman More ultimately ends up marrying given his track record, but if I do that, you might not read the book. And you should read this book.