Will Barrett of Linwood, North Carolina, is a depressed widower with a peculiar tendency to fall down in strange places. Allison, the girl in the greenhouse, has just escaped from a mental institution and is working hard to make a new life for herself. When their paths cross in a most unusual manner, a relationship begins that will help restore two struggling outcasts to new life. What follows is by turns touching and zany, tragic and comic, as Will undertakes his own Pascalian wager in search of proof of the existence of God. Leaving his comfortable home atop a pleasant Carolina mountain and descending deep into the bowels of the long-unused Lost Cove cave, he is prepared to wait for a sign-which may, of course, be death. What he is not prepared for is what actually happens.
It concerns Will Barrett -- a former lawyer, newly minted widower, extremely rich man, and unlikely spiritual seeker. Will finds himself suddenly haunted by half-forgotten memories, afflicted with mysterious fainting spells, and enamored of an eccentric young lady. While "The Second Coming" successfully extends the existentialist themes that are present in Percy's other novels, it's sure to frustrate those people who don't like to think of literature as something that comfortable people do when they find themselves unhappy. The book, though beautifully written, is a bit of a slog in places, and shares that disorienting quality that most books that have mentally ill protagonist at their center tend to have. As in all of the Percy I've read, religion plays a large role, but while the author's observations are sharp, Will's spiritual quest seems a bit more like the ravings of a madman than any sort of productive soul-searching.
But it's these observations, in the end, that make "The Second Coming" interesting. Percy seemed to have an almost preternatural ability to see societal change in America as it unfolded and to sense where Americans, as a society, were headed. Even though this was published in 1979, it's a sharp portrait of the New South, even as Will himself attempts to flee from the nostalgia, hatred, and pride that defined the literary Old South. It also senses the rise of a new, more self-centered kind of Christianity in America and the country's coming fascination with big money and success, which would more or less define the cultural climate of the next decade. Percy's perceptiveness also extends to his characters. He's never so obvious as to describe his characters straight on, but the details he does provide seem well-chosen and telling, and tell us more about his characters than any photograph or interview would. Percy might have been one of American literature's great observers. While "The Second Coming" seems confused and bogged-down in places, it's still a successful novel in many other respects. Recommended to Walker Percy's many fans.
Perry's writing has a depth and beauty I have never found in another book. Large sections are highlighted and starred in my copy. it is difficult to get into Percy at first, but once you're in, impossible to get away. This book is part critique on modern society, part philosophical journey, and part love story. In all parts, it challenges and enriches the reader. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a unique yet remarkable and thoughtful novel. I can't wait to read more from Percy.