moralla’s #CBR4 review #02: A Singular Man by J.P. Donleavy
There are certain literary characters that take hold of your mind when you decide to spend some time with them. Their voice takes over your inner monologue, your thoughts manifesting themselves in their language and rhythm. (Holden Caulfield is the most ready example. You can’t escape his tale without using the words ‘goddam phony’ a lot more often.) George Smith, the titular Singular Man, is just such a character, molding my mind to think in fragmented bursts of sentences in under fifty pages.
Smith is a mysterious figure, aloof yet given to fits of absurdity. He manages to convince a former schoolmate he wants to avoid that he is deaf-mute and can only communicate by making a beeping noise. He appears to be a successful and confident businessman, but as we’re privileged to his inner monologue, we quickly understand that he is lonely, neurotic, insecure and deeply paranoid. He is plagued by vague and hilarious threats and is chiefly occupied by constructing an extravagant mausoleum for himself and sleeping with any woman that is in his gravitational pull. The women in his life seem to go out of their way to fall into bed with him. His money and his cock are the only things he has to offer the world.
The prose constantly slides between first and third person, often mid-paragraph, in a way that is distracting at first, but becomes only natural. Curt sentences slip into poeticisms without becoming trite or sentimental. And when Smith’s mind races every mundane occurrence becomes surreal and dreamlike. Unfortunately, the story of George Smith does not come to an end so much as a stop. The old adage about a gun in act one should be doubly true for a mausoleum.