When The Moviegoer, an extraordinary first novel by an unknown Louisiana author, won the National Book Award in 1962, it marked the arrival of an exceptional literary talent. With his five successive novels and his wide-ranging philosophical and occasional essays, Walker Percy shored up his reputation as one of America's greatest writers - an ironic moralist and perhaps the shrewdest chronicler of life in the New South. Yet even by the time of his death in 1990, little was known about this intensely private man. Based on extensive interviews, written with access to Percy's letters and manuscripts, Jay Tolson has fashioned the first major biography of the writer, an authoritative portrait that brings Percy alive as it illuminates his distinguished body of work. We see Percy's life and his brilliant career against the background of the American South, whose colorful and tragic history is rooted deeply in the hearts and minds of its most talented sons and daughters. With a novelist's eye for character and the judgment of an informed critic, Tolson captures the lifelong drama of genius, always attentive to its artistic, psychological and spiritual dimensions. Percy was the scion of a proud, honorable and accomplished family, a clan haunted by a crippling streak of melancholy that issued repeatedly in suicides, including the self-inflicted deaths of Walker Percy's father and grandfather. Tolson depicts the struggle of Percy's life and the heroism with which he battled his family demons (and his own tubercular condition) and worked his way toward a writing career. Here is the young Percy in the days after his father's death, traveling with his brother and his mother (who would soon die herself, in mysterious circumstances) from his childhood home of Birmingham, Alabama, to Athens, Georgia, and then on to Greenville, Mississippi, and the sprawling house of his Uncle Will. Adopted at 16 by this remarkable "bachelor-poet-lawyer-planter," the most important single influence on the future author's life, Percy came to maturity in what he later described as an "all-male household visited regularly by other poets, politicians, psychiatrists, sociologists, black preachers, folk singers, Civil Rights leaders and itinerant guitar players." We follow Percy as he travels north to New York, where he attended medical school and - with the help of a psychiatrist - began to make sense of his complex family legacy. Tolson details Percy's movement toward the Catholic Church, his first struggles as a writer, his early involvement with the publishing world, the steady support of his friend and fellow writer Shelby Foote, and a demanding apprenticeship under the supervision of the gifted novelist Caroline Gordon and her husband, the late Allen Tate. Percy emerged an altogether distinctive writer: a Catholic artist who, like Flannery O'Connor, worked in a predominantly Protestant culture; an heir to the literary traditions of the Southern Renaissance who adopted the strategies of modern European fiction and philosophy to forge his own narrative art. Tolson guides us through the creation of both the unpublished and published novels - from The Charterhouse through The Thanatos Syndrome - as well as the philosophical works that underlie and complement Percy's fiction. The biographer shows us how the demands of his work were eased by rich friendships, including those with fellow writers Thomas Merton, Eudora Welty and Robert Coles. We learn also about a marriage of abiding strength, and of the love and care that Percy and his wife Bunt gave to the raising of their two daughters, one of them all but deaf from birth. Above all, we see the man in all his shifting moods, "the gracious, easy, almost avuncular manner straining against a powerful, furious intensity, an almost furious energy." Here is the dark tragedy, the humor, and the hard-earned wisdom of a life whose outward calm concealed an internal drama - an unrelenting fight against hopelessness and despair. Percy's story is that of a writer and moralist who made enduring art out of his search for truth.