Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book 7 of 52: The Ginger Man

The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy is one of the books I've had on my shelf for years that I've always meant to read. It was a gift from a friend who knew my love for rollicks.

The Ginger Man is every inch the rollick. Written in mainly as the running interior monologue of Sebastian Dangerfield, the text is littered with traces of the high modernists; Donleavy's punctuation seems haphazard until you realize that it's written in the cadence of Dangerfield's speech.

Maybe I'm getting older, but I didn't laugh through Dangerfield's drunken sexual adventures as much as I might have. In similar books (Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Slaughterhouse Five) the protagonists are motivated by a love for life in all its messy disorder. But in The Ginger Man, Dangerfield is nearly completely paralyzed by his need for money. He woos women almost offhandedly, juggling multiple affairs (including one with his wife), trying to decide which woman will offer him the most golden parachute.

The novel has, I think, an ambiguous ending, in which Dangerfield has finally found his meal ticket in a woman almost as unpredictably deranged as he is, or else in which he has restored the illusion of prosperity long enough to entrap a new woman in his maze of lies and false promises. I think the second possibility is the more interesting one, so that the novel ends almost exactly where it began.

While the plot may be farcical, Dangerfield's interior monologue is tragic. He lives a charmed life; he dodges his debtors, pillages a world of eager and able young women, steals his meals with smiles and light words. But his constant worries about money and where the next meal will come from rob these scenes of their joy. Maybe Dangerfield's anxieties hit too close to home, but I can't enjoy his escapades the way I enjoy the heroes of the books I mentioned earlier. Donleavy's story is a little too much like life.

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