When they stay away from all those heavy Russians and super mopers like Kierkegaard, Southerners, as most everyone knows, have a special penchant for spinning a yarn. Now Mr. Percy is one intelligent man, a philosopher physician with an ear for the poetic line. Why he even championed a comic masterpiece, a one-off novel about a painfully obese medievalist with a rather pronounced disdain for gainful employment. We should all be eternally grateful for his decision to sit down with the manuscript of that gut buster. Unfortunately, the author's own works often slip into an existential coma. After an engaging opening, complete with a baby who emerges from a hurricane, The Last Gentleman gets downright tiresome and lumpy. When examining the conundrums of human freedom and will, Percy lacks the subtlety of the far superior storyteller Robert Penn Warren. In this instance, Percy's women are insufferably tedious, his men only slightly better. Mr. Vaught amuses in seersucker, but the protagonist, a nearly transparent figure known as the engineer, has the charm and presence of an expired june bug. He talks nonsense with a jumbled up girl or, in a fugue state, wanders around for days not knowing his name. After a while, you hope he'll wander across a busy freeway.