October 12, 2000
The Truth Is In There
Inspired by real life, Amram Ducovny's novel presents a universe that may out-weird the series that made his son a star.
Last month, a group of people gathered at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles to hear a distinguished gentleman talk about Jewish gangsters, Yiddish-speaking intellectuals and circus freaks sharing prostitutes. But there was a good reason.
The man behind the lectern, Amram Ducovny, was enthralling his audience with excerpts from his new novel, "Coney," as part of the library's latest installment of its Salon Series for Adults. "Coney" has been described as "part noir thriller, part coming-of-age novel and part irresistible chronicle of 1930s Coney Island."
If Ducovny's name and face seem familiar, that's because your hunch is correct - the author is the father of "X-Files" star David Duchovny (Ducovny dropped the "H" from his name to ease pronunciation).
"Coney" follows its alienated 15-year-old protagonist Harry Catzker as he rebels against his home life and finds a new family in the freaks and lowlifes inhabiting Coney Island's shadowlands. In a sense, for those delving into "Coney" there is a very thin proscenium between the reader and Ducovny's youth - remarkably, Ducovny insists that the lavish sideshow-surreal underworld in "Coney" skews close to reality. The son of a British journalist who relocated to Brooklyn, Ducovny, himself a former journalist, grew up on 37th Street between Mermaid and Neptune. He recalled that, at the age of 6, he became "drunk on words" after hearing the description of the world's creation that opens the Book of Genesis. Living within walking distance of Coney Island's boardwalk, the young Ducovny became very familiar with its milieu of misfits and was impressed to discover that many of these fringe freak show entertainers were European immigrants.
Although Ducovny has released his very first novel at the age of 73, this is not his first book. He has penned 10 nonfiction books, including "David Ben-Gurion: In His Own Words" ("A labor of love," said its author) and a Broadway play, "The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald." Despite lazy comparisons by book critics likening Ducovny's style to those of Philip Roth and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ducovny ranks among his influences another pair of Jewish literary greats, Henry Roth and Saul Bellow.
Ducovny and David's mother, Margaret, divorced when David was 11. Ducovny lives with his second wife, Varda, a professional singer, in Paris, where they took up residence after learning that they shared a French connection, each of them having lived there in the 1950s.
Ducovny is enjoying life these days. Following the conclusion of this book tour, he will return to Paris where, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald in "The Moveable Feast," he lives the life of a fiction-writing bon vivant (although presumably consuming much less alcohol in the process). All of his children are doing well: David and his wife, actress Téa Leoni, recently had a daughter; Ducovny's other son also lives in L.A. and runs a successful Venice-based company; and his daughter, who teaches at a private school in Brooklyn, just got married.
"Coney" fans can rejoice, as Ducovny is presently working on a sequel. Count Ducovny's famous son among those waiting to read the next installment - Ducovny told The Journal that David "likes the book and likes the idea of his father starting a new career at 73."
Now that David is no longer starring in "The X-Files," which character does Ducovny see his son portraying in a movie based on "Coney"?
"He can play the grandfather," said Ducovny, grinning. "He's actually a dead ringer for my father." Ultimately, Ducovny sees "Coney" as the culmination of a dream, to capture in narrative the colors and flavors of his youth.
"I always wanted to write fiction," Ducovny said. A decade and many drafts later, "Coney" represents the fermentation of these thoughts. So why did it take so long for him to write his first novel? "Fiction is truer than nonfiction," said Ducovny with a knowing smile.