Farewell J.P. Donleavy: God have mercy on the wild Ginger Man

The great J.P. Donleavy has died at the ripe old age of 91. I’ve been a Donleavy fan since my senior year in college when I discovered his work while studying in Ireland. Donleavy is the King of The Tragicomedy. “The Ginger Man,” in particular, his first novel exemplifies that concept and the main character, Sebastian Dangerfield, weaves his way through life in a forays of mischief, alcohol, mastery of a silver tongue and general shenanigans. Though Dangerfield is not a gent to be sure – an understatement many would say –  his wit and charm win over the reader.

Dangerfield defines many of Donleavy’s characters who are far from moral heroes, but likeable and enjoyable to read because of Donleavy’s grand writing style.

In, “The Ginger Man,” Donleavy weaves together a stream-of-conciousness narrative that alternates between first and third person – somewhat Joycean –  but with stronger word choice. He also ends every chapter with a poem, generally three of four lines and rarely rhyming, but a gorgeous literary device that works to sum up the state of mind in the character’s life quite well at the point. Here is an example:

All I want
Is one break
Which is not
My neck.

God knows, I’ve uttered that phrase many times on this orb.

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To say I’ve been influenced by Donleavy would be an understatement. I haven’t totally immersed myself in his writing style, but do use his techniques of shifting between third and first person, though on a much smaller and tamed basis. I also find his use of humor and wit unrivalled in many aspects.

While I find certain parts of “The Ginger Man” a bit uncomfortable reading it many years after I first read it, I still do praise Donleavy’s style of writing. Perhaps, most of all,  I believe that perhaps alongside Pat Conroy, he is the greatest describer of nature I have read, particularly in “The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman.” And I believe that gift of his is greatly overlooked. For example, take this passage from one of his books.

“The sun of Sunday morning up out of the sleepless sea from black Liverpool. Sitting on the rocks over the water with a jug of coffee. Down there along the harbor pier, trippers in bright colors. Sails moving out to sea. Young couples climbing the Balscaddoon Road to the top of Kilrock to search out grass and lie between the furze. A cold green sea breaking whitely along the granite coast. A day on which all things are born, like uncovered stars.”

And this:

“Come here till I tell you. Where is the sea high and the winds soft and moist and warm, sometimes stained with sun, with peace so wild for wishing where all is told and telling.”

Simply gorgeous.

Godspeed to Donleavy. I end this with the great last line from ‘The Ginger Man” which serves as a fitting eulogy.

“On a winter night I heard horses on a country road, beating sparks out of the stones. I knew they were running away and would be crossing the fields where the pounding would come up into my ears. And I said they are running out to death which is with some soul and their eyes are mad and teeth out.

God’s mercy
On the wild
Ginger Man.”

A wee bit of Hobbit, a dash of Elf and now a smidgen of Fairy…

Today, I became an official Book Fairy.  I don’t think the honor will land on my resume – then again who knows – but, the work these fellow fairies do hiding books for readers to find across the globe is commendable. Also, for someone who loves a good riddle, symbol and clue, it is right up my alley. I’ve always considered myself an oversized Hobbit – likes nature, good food, laughter and beer, hates machinery – but also with a dash of Elf. However, now in my genetic disposition, I will need to add Fairy. Here is the link to check out what they do if you want to get involved.

You ain’t Spota be doin’ that! What’s in a character’s name?

Spota.

This is a picture of the man who inspired the character in Alexandria Reborn.

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What an interesting name? How did he get this name? Who is this guy and why is he in your novel? Who is the real Spota then?

No spoilers here, but in the scene where he introduces himself to Rand, it reads as such:

“By the way, my name is Rand,” a handshake extended and met.

“Nice to meet you, Rand. You can just call me Spota.”

“Spota?”

“Yeah, as in you ain’t spota be doin’ that. You ain’t spota say that. You ain’t spota blow that shit up like that. You know? I have many other names. Some good, some bad. Some people call me the man because I am basically the best at what I do. Some call me Clooney because I am so handsome, but most people here just call me Spota.”

Rand laughed. Needed it. Spota’s levity was instantly contagious.

“Spota it is then.”

“Good, now let’s get out of this heat.”

Spota is one of the new characters in the Alexandria Rising Chronicles and is inspired by a longtime friend Adam Kijanksi who – when I met him at Berry College 25 years ago or so – was nicknamed Spota because he wasn’t spota be doin’ that or spota be sayin’ that. The demolition stuff? No, entirely made up for the book. Adam is actually an outstanding citizen, husband and father whose work with veterans and mental health is commendable (and no, he is called Adam these days, though I am sure he wouldn’t mind a Spota reference now and then).

So how did I come about to use Spota in Alexandria Reborn? What about the other names? Are some of them real people?

Well, one of the best aspects about writing fiction is creating new characters. You can take a piece from one person you know, a little from yourself, a bit from someone else and then blend it up, toss in some imagination, a random trait, symbolism and see where it leads you. Some – like the villain of the first book Kent St. James – are just bloody fun to write because he is so evil and condescending. Others – like Michael Casey the cabdriver – are just an impression of, yes, a cab driver I met while traveling in Ireland 20 or so years ago. By myself. Like Rand. Riding in the front seat. Like Rand. And the man did have a bushel of nose hair.

One of the things I wanted to do in the sequel was to further world creation. Rand is somewhat limited in his scope of The Organization’s reach in the first novel. In Alexandria Reborn, I wanted to show the other sides and, along the way, introduce new characters. While Rand is a smart aleck at times, I wanted some true levity and mano y mano bonding and brotherhood. No yuk-yuk banal humor, but true wit, word play, authenticity of character and scenes of brotherhood and bonding.

Adam was kind enough to let me use the Spota name in this book. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know this new character as you read the book. He does add some levity, is great with wordplay and dialogue, and, much like the man who inspired the character – is authentic, true and a brother in arms along the journey.