A Fairy Tale of New York Summary
As a satire on the American funeral industry A Fairy Tale of New York joins several distinguished modern novels by Englishmen during this century. Aldous Huxley's After Many A Summer Dies the Swan (1939) and Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, like Donleavy's book effectively satirize the euphemism, the morbidity, and the ostentation of the American way of death. The funniest scene, in which Christian faints upon his initiation to the embalming room, is hoisted onto the table, and wakes up wondering exactly what everyone is doing to him, is of the order of Waugh's Juvenalian satire.
Although critic John Harrington recalls The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan because of the hero's name and the series of episodic adventures that test his character, the books does not really represent Christian as so much tempted as exploitative of the situations that surround and threaten to exploit him.
This material was originally conceived as a play, and thus A Fairy Tale of New York actually reverses the pattern of Donleavy's other plays, which are adaptations of his novels. The play version was completed shortly after The Ginger Man, but had modestly successful runs. At the height of his reputation and influence in the 1970s, Donleavy returned to this satire on New York and American attitudes toward death. One would expect that this opportunity to re-visit the dramatic material would result in highly effective dialogue, which was after all the strongest stylistic feature of The Ginger Man and The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. Surprisingly, this does not happen. The only character except for Christian to emerge with an authentic dramatic voice is the mindless How, whose voice is parodic rather than that of a real character. Similarly, the voice of Christian, while recognizable, resembles that of other Donleavy heroes.