Doug sums up the plot of The Ginger Man so succinctly, I will just let him tell it to you:
Okay, okay, quiet down now, I got a joke for you. Stop me if you've heard this one: ...[Sebastian Dangerfield] walks into a bar, right? Gets blind drunk, smashes up some things, goes home, and pawns his woman's stuff to get more money to buy booze. Wait, it gets better. She gets mad, he smacks her, and she leaves eventually. He pawns the rest of her stuff, gets drunk, and finds another woman who has sex with him and falls in love with him...
Wait, it gets better... after this new woman falls in love with him, this guy walks into a bar. Gets blind drunk, smashes up some things, goes home, and pawns this new woman's stuff to get more money to buy booze. She gets mad, he smacks her, and she leaves eventually...
That plot synopsis I just gave you is the entire story of The Ginger Man. That one theme, over and over. And over.
The Nation says that this novel is "a comic masterpiece." The New Yorker called it "a triumph of comic writing." Let me give you some quotes here, and you tell me if you think this is comedic:
[Sebastian] took the child's pillow from under its head and pressed it hard on the screaming mouth.
"I'll kill it, God damn it, I'll kill it, if it doesn't shut up."
[Sebastian's wife]: "That we've been starving. That the baby has rickets. And because you're drinking every penny we get. And this house too and that you slapped and punched me when I was pregnant, threw me out of bed and pushed me down the stairs. That we're in debt, owe hundreds of pounds, the whole loathsome truth."
...He slowly reached out and took the shade off the lamp. He placed it on his little table.
"Are you going to shut up?"
He took the lamp by the neck and smashed it to pieces on the wall.
"Now shut up."
HOW ABOUT THIS:
[Sebastian:] "Well god damn it, another word out of you and I'll bat you in the bloody face..."...Sebastian's arm whistled through the air. The flat of his palm cracked against the side of her face and Mary sat stunned. He slapped her again. "I'm going to kick the living shit out of you. Do you hear me?"
That's hillarious, isn't it? Jay McInerney - whose book Big City, Bright Lights is on my TBR pile, calls Dangerfield thoroughly charming. Yeah - Dangerfield seems like the type of person you'd really enjoy knowing, doesn't it? I'm not sure on what planet someone would find Dangerfield charming, but it isn't on the planet I live on (or would want to live on).
I don't know that I've run across another literary character that I so thoroughly detested. At first I debated who I disliked more - Sebastian Dangerfield or Rabbit Angstrom. But Dangerfield wins hands down. At least Rabbit, Run wasn't supposed to be funny.
I'll be frank here, as this is pretty much all that I have to say about this novel (which is a waste of paper, if you asked me). Sebastian Dangerfield is an Asshole - with a capital A. A story about an abusive guy who takes all his money (and his wife's money, and his girlfriend's money, and his friend's money, etc.) to get drunk and schmooze women, while his wife and infant daughter virtually starve in a house that is literally falling down is not funny. In fact, I find it incredibly disturbing that anyone would think this is funny, or that such a character is "charming." And if you are someone who thinks this character is charming, or sympathetic, or funny, I'll venture to guess that you're probably an Asshole - with a capital A - too. So there.
Please don't construe this as a softening of any anti-Henry James-ness, but I think that I would rather reread The Ambassadors than have to encounter Sebastian Dangerfield ever again. The only use for my copy of this novel is to give it to Brendan to fart on.