Patrick Gallagher’s new novel Prevalent Insanity tells the story of Kevin O’Donnell, a professor at a Philadelphia-area university in the 1980s, and his search for pictures that his Irish uncle may have taken just days before the earthquake that rocked San Francisco in 1906.
This story is quite the adventure and it has a large scope. Gallagher takes the reader on a gripping ride with comic elements and settings ranging from Philadelphia to places like Missouri, Donegal, Santa Fe and San Diego. The novel has been in the works for many years.
Gallagher started by writing short stories while he was in school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966, but he began work on this book years later. “I started this book at the end of 1982. I wrote about three chapters a year for a bit and then I put it aside for 14 or 15 years, believe it or not,” Gallagher says.
Over this time, the novel naturally went through some changes. “My writing style is not to map everything out and then write it, I’m just getting into it and seeing where it goes,” says Gallagher. In those interim years, Gallagher visited Santa Fe, Pueblo and Saint Joseph, Missouri, three locations that play a large part in the novel.
However, the main character’s search for his uncle’s photographs remained the same throughout. In the novel, Phillip O’Donnell is an Irish immigrant living in San Francisco and working as a photographer just before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Kevin O’Donnell is an American Civilization professor at a Philly area university in 1983 who wants to find his uncle’s photographs and ends up making many special connections along the way.
The story goes off in different directions from there, but the basic plot was inspired by Gallagher’s own heritage. “My parents are from Glenties in Donegal. One time, my father said to me that he had a cousin who had died in San Francisco around the time of the famous earthquake and fire,” he explains. “And he used to send money back to family in Ireland and write letters, but after the earthquake, no one ever heard about him.”
This unknown cousin provided the spark for Gallagher to write the story and sets up the main character’s adventure. “But it’s really not about him. It’s much bigger than that, it’s quite a quest story,” Gallagher explains. “It takes place in many different locations and one of my earliest readers thanked me because they’d never get to go off to all of those places.”
“I think we have incredibly close connections with people in life that we sometimes don’t recognize. We’re all connected, but we don’t know it yet,” he says. This is a theme that Gallagher touches on in the novel as the main character travels all over the country and comes to meet a wide range of people who help him in his search for the photographs. This includes a family in Santa Fe that lets Kevin stay with them, which Gallagher particularly enjoyed writing.
Readers of Prevalent Insanity will appreciate the comedic elements that Gallagher sprinkles in. It is also full of references to the Philadelphia area that local readers will pick up on. Gallagher paints vivid pictures of locations around Philadelphia and Ocean City, N.J., that are instantly recognizable.
The book is dedicated to Gallagher’s late wife of 44 years, Irene Bradley. “We met at a party and I fell in love almost immediately. We had our first date on St. Patrick’s Day,” says Gallagher. Bradley earned a B.B.A. and Ph.D. from the Fox School of Business and was a professor at Albright College and Neumann University. “The dedication means a lot and when a dear friend of mine got the book, she opened it to the dedication page and put it up to her heart because she knew what that meant and it was just very sweet.”
“She got to love traveling, which was great. She loved Donegal,” says Gallagher. “What’s cool, too, in couples is being good at traveling together and having similar places you want to go. She came to love the American southwest.” The couple’s love for travel certainly influenced Prevalent Insanity as sections of the novel take place in Donegal and the southwest.
Gallagher expressed interest in releasing an audiobook version of his novel as it would make the book more accessible for people with traumatic brain injuries. “I’m very involved in supporting people with traumatic brain injuries. It’s one of the ailments that my dear wife had for over 15 years,” he says. “And several people having heard about the book asked about an audiobook version because they have trouble with reading. So I’ll have to investigate that, it might be a little out of reach right now.”
One of the groups that Gallagher is involved with is the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania, which is a Zoom group that has been around for about a year, and the other is the Penn Presbyterian Brain Injury Support Group which Gallagher has been involved with for the past two years.
“I’ve never met more amazing people in my life,” Gallagher says. “Some of the people who have survived severe brain injuries would run rings around us in terms of what they can accomplish and manage. I often tell them ‘I was 70 when I first met you people, how did I ever live without you?’”
In March, Gallagher will be going to the nation’s capital to visit the office of Rep. Dwight Evans in advocacy for the traumatic brain injury community.
Gallagher expressed interest in writing another novel, but he has other creative pursuits that he is working on now as well. He’s written plays in the past and is working on a screenplay for a romantic comedy currently. Anyone who picks up Prevalent Insanity is in for a good time.
The book is available on Amazon in both digital and paperback formats.