'A Singular Man' Donleavy Proves His Lunatic Humor is Original"
By Hunter S. Thompson
Well, it finally happened. Five years after his fist novel, The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy has produced his second. And anyone who's been filling those years with a mixture of hope and dread can relax, grin largely, and shell out $6 for A Singular Man, Atlantic-Little, Brown 402 pages. It's worth every penny of it.
Reading Mr. Donleavy is no longer like being dragged into a beer-brawl in some violent Irish pub but more like sitting down to an evening of good whiskey and mad laughter in a rare conversation somewhere on the edge of reality.
Rich at an Early Age
The Singular Man of the title is George Smith, who has become rich at an early age at so business that is never explained but which allows him to construct with no regard for cost a huge granite tomb to house a sycamore coffin containing his earthly remains. The inscription that Smith's will stipulates must be carved deeply in the sycamore also provides Donleavy with one his typical chapter endings:
As the Guilty
Closed in on them
There are other stipulations in George Smith's will. He wants "all his chattel possessions sold at public auction, and the entire sum of money proceeding from such auction is then to be converted to banknotes of small denominations and placed in a steel receptacle six feet high and one foot in diameter and so placed and so constructed as to withstand the rigors of a hoard."
"On a given day, at midnight and after adequate publicity, the public will be allowed to rush to the cylinder of money with 'fishing rods, croquet mallets and other suitable equipment.' The ensuing mob scene is then to be filmed for posterity."
Money Riot in Manhattan
It could be said that only a madman could devote the bulk of his fortune to causing a money riot in downtown Manhattan - but Smith is sane. He simply is pathetically loony and what makes Mr. Donleavy a first a first-rate author is that he can write about loneliness with a deep and tough-minded compassion.
Early in the book, Smith leaves New York for a Christmas visit with wife and four children from whom he is separated. On the train he meets his former secretary, a beautiful, lusty blond who is Smith's and everyone else's Golden Girl. He wants to run off with her and have a Christmas like people have on Christmas cards. But she is with a group of bon vivants bound for a house party. So Smith gets off at his stop and stands self-consciously on the platform as the train pulls out.
"Stand here," he tells himself. Show utter indifference to big country house parties everywhere. Here come the windows. All her friends will be looking too. To catch a glimpse of the rich and mysterious George Smith! Ready now, the pose is just right. The first windows. No. The second. Must be the observation glass at the end. Look more indifferent. Then the last of the train whips by. Gee. Not a soul. To look at me.
So Sally goes on to her house party and Smith trudges off in the snow to see his wife, a greedy wench who mocks him.
Becomes a Famous Model
The plot, if there really is one, hangs on Smith's hopeless love for Miss Sally Thompson, the ex-secretary who becomes a famous model. It's a masterpiece of writing about love. Somehow. Somehow in spite of "Miss Thompson's" promiscuity the seductions are conducted in surnames and Smith's weird, orgiastic habits. Mr. Donleavy manages to show them convincingly as two genuine innocents in a tragic world.
That, in essence, is what
the book is about; Innocence and love and loneliness and dreams, and the madness
of trying to preserve such fragile baggage in the great hustile of today's
reality. Quite a few
people have written about the same things, but not with the sad, lunatic humor that makes Mr. Donleavy
Mr. Donleavy is a humorist in the only sense of the word that has any dignity. Thomas Gaisworthy talked about "that high plateau where philosophy lives with despair." He might have mentioned an even higher one where humor is forever at war with despair and where the best and most honest humorists occasionally hold their own.
On that level, Mr. Donleavy is already as good as Nathaniel West, who was no mean hand at this sort of business. A Singular Man makes Mr. Donleavy look like a comer, instead of a has-been like most of his competition in the field of contemporary American fiction. And that alone, as George Smith might say, is worth quite a bit in these "in these obtuse times." - Hunter S. Thompson
To purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to the Buyers' Guide.