O’Hara – Appointment in Samarra

21 Oct

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara (1934)

The decline and fall of Julian English.  Merry Christmas!

This was my first experience with John O’Hara and it was a good one.  This book came highly recommended to me by my father who read it some years ago.  I admittedly did not know what to expect based on the title.  I figured somebody made a dinner date in Iraq; sort of like when I picked up Catcher in the Rye as a teenager thinking it was going to be like Field of Dreams.  The cover of my edition (as seen above) shows the silhouette of a wasted looking dude slumped in the passenger seat of a Cadillac.  That is what I should have been expecting.

The story surrounds a Depression era mining town, Gibbsville, during Christmas.  It took a good 50 pages or so before I began to pick up on the voice, but I very much enjoy O’Hara’s Fitzgerald-esque high society and narration, Hemingway-tinged dialogue and Maughm-ish character development (all three authors are mentioned in the novel).  The treatment of the bootlegging underworld and the supposition of impending doom also added a bit of a noir feel.  O’Hara’s hybrid style is dynamic and incredibly readable.

The one thing that I did have a problem with was the Austen-like introduction to 3,000 characters in the second chapter.  I cannot stand it when I’m bombarded with a plethora of characters before I’ve gotten my narrative bearings.  200 pages into the novel I’m asking myself, “Who the hell is Froggy Ogden??”  I was thinking that this might translate well into film (because I’m better with faces than names) and I learned in a recent visit to imdb.com that a film is in the works.

Though Julian English isn’t much of a sympathetic character because of his alcoholism, lechery and treatment of his wife, Caroline, my saucy self could empathize with him to an extent.  Everybody’s embarrassed themselves with drink at one point or another.  It is my recommendation to never get sideways enough to throw a high ball in the face of somebody who has half the town in his pocket, or play hide-the-sausage with the mistress of a mob boss.

Julian English, a former ivy leaguer and promising young businessman learns that a single, seemingly innocuous party foul can lead to a treacherous ripple effect of social degeneration.  As the novel progresses, O’Hara illustrates this ironically with Julian’s family and country club friends referring to him affectionately as “Ju” in a town brimming with anti-Semitism.  In just under three days, Julian English ostracizes himself entirely and destroys his marriage.

I’ll be ordering a copy of BUtterfield 8 the next time I’m on amazon.

Rating: ****

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One Response to “O’Hara – Appointment in Samarra”

  1. pastorjosephhedden November 13, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    Nice review. I feel the same way about the title. Possibly the most misleading title ever?

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