The acclaimed author J.P. Donleavy died today.
He was ninety one years old, which, if you have read his books and believe authors are the real characters in their books, reaching the tenth decade for him must have been some kind of miracle.
The Ginger Man was his most famous book. It sold 45 million copies. Well, forty five million plus one. Upon reading of his death this morning I went on Amazon and snagged one more for myself at the bargain price of six bucks or so.
I won’t pretend that my summary or description of the book would do it justice enough to even give it a try. I’ll just say if you haven’t read it, you are missing out, and you should get it immediately.
I was a young man when I read it and I was blown away by its wild-eyed adventures and gasp inducing personality of the character Sebastian Dangerfield, whom I suspected was non other than the author himself. I loved it. Still do.
And there was a time when I was young–maybe 25–working for Atlantic Records in New York, and I was walking up 5th Avenue (to a recording studio to do a session with Glenn Frye and Don Henley, a recording of some sort of promotional material for their “Desperado” album, I believe), and I spotted a man standing in the doorway of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the Gothic pile at 50th Street. Standing up against the hewn wooden door, between the stone saints was a man I recognized immediately as my hero, the author of the book The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy himself. In the flesh.
He was dressed in his Irish tweeds, I think he had a pipe clenched in his teeth, he sported a walking stick, his beard was turning gray. He was watching the crowds stream by on the sidewalk, oblivious to his presence.
I was not going to let the moment pass.
I walked up the steps and said, “You’re J.P. Donleavy, aren’t you?”
Startled, he looked at me with some hesitation about his answer. But momentarily he said Yes.
I said, “I just want to shake your hand.”
He offered me his hand and I shook it like I meant it.
Then I left him alone to his observations.
Today I thought about one of his other books, The Onion Eaters. It’s about a man descended from a line of men who are all born with three testicles. Oh the infernal bother of that third bit.
There’s always a curious woman at the door.
The great J.P. Donleavy has passed.