The Thanatos Syndrome, by Walker Percy
It appears as if this novel is part of the same series as Love In The Ruins, especially as both have as their lead character one Thomas More, and it would seem a bit lazy for an author to have a lead character with the same name and similar viewpoint but different over the course of one’s novels. I’m not sure how I feel about Thomas More as a hero. Having read two novels with him, I can see that he is probably a stand-in for the author in being intelligent and somewhat stubborn but also definitely a bad Catholic, but the author doesn’t seem to do a good enough job at pointing out how a bad Catholic can be a good person, and if the author is trying to make the character relatable rather than heroically moral, then it undercuts at least some of the point of his novels in pointing out the moral collapse of society as a whole, which this novel certainly deals with in at least some of its aspects. And, like the previous novel of the author I have read, this book too manages to offend the sensibilities of both right and left simultaneously, which is a remarkable achievement.
This particular novel of a bit less than 400 pages shows Thomas More being released from prison and seeking to get back into life, where he finds himself caught up in a mysterious situation where a large group of people shows symptoms of pongoid development and an absence of understanding of context while having nearly perfect memory. Solving this mystery, alas, is the easy part, as Mr. More finds himself doing a bit of family history exploration and finding a one-night stand with someone on the different side of a complex family situation involving an early Louisiana settler who was a Tory with two wives in the period immediately after the American Revolution. And then there is the matter of his breaking parole by trespassing into the area where research is being done in the effects of mass sodium poisoning that end up being far darker than originally suspected, and that end up involving a daring rescue and imprisonment that seems like a bad reality television episode before everything ends up more or less okay for the protagonist who finds himself struggling to find willing patients in rural Louisiana with a lusty Pentecostal wife restored to her sanity.
Is it really worthwhile to read more novels in this series? This book left a sour taste in my mouth, to be sure, and only some of that is due to the fact that the author was prescient in warning about the way that additives to water could used for the purposes of social control (something that was a concern as early as the Stepford Wives). A great deal of this book’s discomfort comes in the way that the author simultaneously wishes to exploit and undercut moral fervor about the way that it portrays various figures as exploiting children sexually for their own enjoyment and the creation of pornography from this child abuse. The author could have sought to look at his view of the behavior of the government project and those who were running it as a way of demonstrating his own moral worldview, but instead he has his hero engaged in adultery with a distant relative of his and quite willing to take back his wife who had been unfaithful while casually violating his parole, which undercuts the morality of the position that the author would have wanted to present. It is almost as if the author is such a bad Catholic that he doesn’t even want to take obvious steps to demonstrate how he and his protagonist could be good Catholics, or just good people in general.