- J.P. Donleavy from the play "The Saddest Summer of Samuel S"
"S for 'Singular'"
The Saddest Summer of Samuel S by J.P. Donleavy
In Candide, Voltaire wrote for all time the story of the philosophic fathead betrayed by blind optimism and an overweening trust in the goodness of human nature. J. P. Donleavy's conte philosophique demonstrates that the things a man does not believe in can be as crippling as false faith. This is the opposite of Candide's optimism—despair. Donleavy's hero, Samuel S, does not suffer persecution by savages; his enemy is himself; he believes nothing.
Mr. S, a man of some eminence in the U.S. literary world, is, at 40, in his fifth year of psychoanalysis in Vienna. His most obvious problems are love and money. A countess offers him a permanent income as an opera escort and house pet. An American girl student offers love and even to take care of his frowsty digs. He refuses both, and his analyst gives him up as a bad job. By way of farewell to psychotherapy, Samuel S says: "This final session has given me the biggest insight of all. That if I am ever cured, I will never know it." The book ends with S in a state of collapse—nullity has been achieved.
S should be a dull dog but is not; he is the liveliest of loonies. High-spirited writing about a low-spirited man is rare enough to raise hopeful questions about Donleavy's future as a writer. In The Ginger Man, he wrote an irresistible Dublin farce; in A Singular Man, he created a fantasy figure of power, wealth and charm, who could do everything but was concerned mainly with building a mausoleum to defeat death. In Mr. S, he has created a man who can do nothing but accept death. S, at a fair guess, stands for "singular," and in his singularity lies man's doom. Donleavy is a natural comedian who achieves his black effects by means as economical as those of a gifted mime doing a skit on a deathbed scene. Should he decide on a full-length drama, his next novel should be worth waiting for.