Fyodor Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, and the Age of Suicide is a study of the phenomenon of suicide in modern and post-modern society as represented in the major fictional works of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Walker Percy. In his study, suicide is understood in both a literal and spiritual sense as referring to both the actual suicides in their works and to the broader social malaise of spiritual suicide, or despair. In the 19th century Dostoevsky called suicide "the terrible question of our age". For his part, Percy understood 20th century Western culture as "suicidal" in both its social, political and military behavior and in the deeper sense that its citizenry had suffered an ontological "loss of self" or "deformation" of being. Likewise, Thomas Merton called the 20th century an "age of suicide".
John Desmond examines the cultural ethos of suicide as it is developed in eleven major works of fiction—Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons and The Brothers Karamazov; and Percy’s The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Second Coming and The Thanatos Syndrome. His study is analogical and progressive in that it demonstrates how Percy "furthered" Dostoevsky’s prophetic insights and intuitions about suicide as they evolved in modern Western culture. It reveals how the spiritual, moral and ideological conditions that Dostoevsky analyzed in the latter 19th century came to prophetic—and dire—fulfillment in the 20th century, as Percy observed. The study develops its argument through a close analysis of themes, characters, actions and images that reveal both correspondence between and development from Dostoevsky to Percy. In the Epilogue, Desmond offers a Christian counter-vision to the suicidal ethos of the age.
"This major work boldly analyzes how each novelist charted the perverse self-destructiveness of the modern world and posited a life-affirming alternative in the possibility of Christian salvation."~Gary Ciuba, author of Walker Percy: Books of Revelation
"An early critic of Walker Percy’s work called Percy ‘The Dostoevsky of the Bayou.’ Forays into the links between Percy’s works and the great Russian exist, but none as substantive as John Desmond’s Fyodor Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, and the Age of Suicide. Beset by suicide in his family history, Percy’s work can be understood as an attempt to trace the cultural and spiritual absence that make suicide a grim (and everyday) part of the late nineteenth century through our present age. In this effort Dostoevsky serves as Percy’s Virgil. Dostoevsky saw in his time the malaise that follows the ascension of the autonomous self, now running rampant in the early twenty-first century. Suicide reveals the spiritual maladies that beset this age, and while the social sciences claim sovereignty over it, Percy, like Dostoevsky, sees suicide as standing beyond whatever social science might provide as a ‘cure.’ The issue, one could say, is ontological, and attempts at social programs to ‘fix it’ could paradoxically worsen it. Desmond’s lucid analysis underscores the deeper philosophical and spiritual realities that our culture resists. This is a book to be reckoned with."~Edward J. Dupuy, author of Autobiography in Walker Percy: Repetition, Recovery, and Redemption