Thursday, February 19, 2009

Remembering Reading Donleavy

I met them thirty-five years ago when I entered graduate school. They had been there the whole time, of course, but I had been in the History Department, not the English Department, and I didn't know who they were. And then again they were from the area, all local boys, sort-of-- from Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Houston-- and their girls were local too. Tough women from the big thicket or Louisiana. I was from up North near the Red River and not one of them really.

They thought I was rich at first but I wasn't. I lived in an apartment and drove a new car because I had worked in the construction business with my father and I made good money before I transferred in. I had studied at the college in my home town that was later absorbed by the state university before I transferred to the teacher's college, where I learned they ruled the English Department. Counting their girls, there was seven or eight of them and they made the top grades and led the discussions and chose the writers we were supposed to worship.

Like I said I had been in the History Department before graduate school and all my reading had been done in silence . I read most of the modern fiction in the college library by the time I arrived in the graduate program and I preferred European writers. In 1974, my favorites were Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Iris Murdoch, and Lawrence Durrell. They didn't like those writers; instead, they liked Hemingway and Pynchon, Borges and Vonnegut, Roth and Bellow. I liked those writers, too, but they weren't my favorites.

At the time I arrived I was reading Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden. I also liked science fiction and I tended to read it indiscriminately. I was also studying German and planned to go to Germany as soon as I graduated.

They tended to ignore me at first but slowly they came to see me. It was probably the fight over Lawrence. I argued that Women in Love was one of the greatest novels ever written. When I said it, cat-calls issued from the room and the fight began. However, it was from that fight that the recognitions began. And although I liked the English and the Germans like Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Robert Musil, I seemed, eventually, to at least qualify for a junior membership in their clique because--here was the nub of it--I was a massive reader. And in the end it was the reading that qualified me to enter their presence. They couldn't deny the reading. It was too palpable, too catholic to be denied.

One night at the local donut shop on North Street at two o'clock in the morning the warring ended when the name J. P. Donleavy was mentioned. Unanimous consent was arrived at when we discussed The Ginger Man. We weren't sure why we liked it. Donleavy's prose was mentioned several times in a vague way. All we knew was that The Ginger Man's prose spoke to our sensibility.

Reading The Ginger Man now, I will tell you it is the poetry, not the prose that attracted us. And I might add that the sex and the bookish life in poverty and the youth also caught our attention.

Does anyone read Donleavy anymore? I haven't heard his name in years but they should. His prose still sparkles. Maybe someone with some clout will read him and then he will be re-discovered.

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