Thursday, February 11, 2016

Appointment in Samarra

Every generation thinks it invented sex and drugs and rock and roll, the baby boomers in particular.  In John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra, (1934) we see that perhaps it was our grandparents' generation that started the ball rolling in this respect.


John O'Hara was born in 1905, the same year as my maternal grandmother and this novel is about people of his generation.  Not that Appointment in Samarra is a generational novel.  I was just struck by the behavior of the characters, who, had they been real, would have been my grandparents' contemporaries.

Set in a small Pennsylvania town, at Christmastime, 1929; the Great Depression is just getting started and people, particularly those associated with the town Cadillac dealership, are worried about money. It deals with the inexplicable self-destructive urge that sometimes propels us.  We all do things that are harmful to ourselves, perhaps not understanding why, and yet unable to stop.  Julian English, the central character in Appointment in Samarra, opens the novel by tossing a drink into the face of the one man in town who might have enough money to carry them through the depression.  He does this at a country club party on Christmas Eve, setting off a gossip storm in the town.  One damaging act leads to the next, and Julian finds himself in a compromising position with the local mafia boss's girlfriend, and then estranged from his wife.  English's downward spiral leads to a swift conclusion, and the reader is left a bit breathless at how quickly an ordinary life can go wrong.

I read this novel back at Christmas, which goes to show how behind I am on my book posts.  I got it off of Modern Library's list of the top 100 books in English.  John O'Hara is certainly an American writer of note and I remember seeing his name on the spines of several of the books in my grandparents' and my mother's libraries, although I tend to confuse him with John Cheever.  Read Appointment In Samarra if you want to see what intelligent people were reading in the 1930s.

7 comments:

  1. Well, you're behind on your book posts because of the knitting! Unless you are that talented that can read AND knit at the same time. You ARE that talented, aren't you?

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    1. Ha, no I can't knit and read at the same time, although back when my kids were babies, I figured out how to knit and breastfeed at the same time.

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  2. Cheever was a generation later and way different. Read his "Collected Stories" - it's a Whitman's Sampler of his style and of the times he lived in.

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    1. Thanks, I will. I can't think of John Cheever without hearing Susan from Seinfeld's voice in my head.

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  3. This book was mentioned in the book "The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe. I haven't read "Appointment in Samarra". It seems like there are a lot of classic American novels I haven't read.

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  4. I haven't read this book; thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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  5. I never even heard of it. Sounds like a swell plot, though. So much trouble!

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