I was standing in the lobby of Santa Fe’s historic La Fonda Inn when my wife broke the news. “Walker Percy’s name isn’t in here,” she said, waving a brochure that listed the hotel’s long list of “celebrity guests.”
My exact reply escapes me, but the PG version went something like: “Shirley MacLaine? John Travolta? Are you kidding me?”
Percy’s novels have inspired generations of spiritual seekers and Santa Fe is where he finally found his calling. But in La Fonda’s lore, he’s easily outranked by Robert Duvall, even Larry Hagman.
Somewhere out there in the cosmos, though, I bet that Percy, the old moviegoer himself, is laughing. For in the end, it wasn’t anonymity that he feared but eminence.
Anonymity was all that Percy had when he drove into Santa Fe in the summer of 1946. He was thirty years old and beginning to panic. The heir to an accomplished line of Southern war heroes, lawyers, and poets, Percy was badly adrift. He had abandoned a medical career, done a little writing, dated a lot of women, endlessly pondered his options. It was swiftly adding up to nothing, and he knew it.
He desperately wanted a fresh start, as his biographer Jay Tolson recounts. So he went on a search. Somehow, he...