April 23, 2015
J.P. DONLEAVY (born 1926) wasn’t supposed to be a writer. After serving in the Navy during WWII, the New York-born son of Irish immigrants attended Dublin’s Trinity College. He left without taking a degree, and tried to get his paintings shown in London galleries — only to be told that he wasn’t well-known enough. So he set out to become a famous author. The Ginger Man, Donleavy’s first effort, is a funny, twisted, raunchy story — told from various perspectives — about a monstrous American, Sebastian Dangerfield, crashing around Dublin in search of food (“Porridge with lashings of milk and sugar. Then the bacon and eggs. Bring them on. O I tell you.”), rent money, and extramarital sex. Like Dangerfield, Donleavy was a ferocious opponent of “the crut” — midcentury Ireland’s (and America’s) tendency to fear and censor anything salacious or impious. The novel was published in 1955, as part of Olympia Press’s pornographic Traveller’s Companion Series, and banned in both Ireland and the United States for obscenity; Donleavy became, to his chagrin, infamous. I’m particularly fond of his next five novels, also raunchy, amusing, tragic, and occasionally brilliant — A Singular Man (1963), The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B (1968), The Onion Eaters (1971), A Fairy Tale of New York (1973), and The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman (1976) — which revolve erratically around the theme of an aristocratic, sensitive man (often endowed with extraordinary genitalia), who finds himself surrounded by pedants, philistines, thugs, and bill collectors. Also worth mentioning is Donleavy’s The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival & Manners (1975), which is exactly what its title claims.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).