Appointment in Samarra

O'Hara, John

Book - 2013
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Appointment in Samarra
"In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, social circuit is electrified with parties and dances. At the center of the social elite stand Julian and Caroline English. But in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction"

Publisher: New York :, Penguin Books,, 2013
ISBN: 9780143107071
Branch Call Number: FICTION OHARA 2013
Characteristics: xvii, 220 pages ;,22 cm


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Nov 26, 2013
  • lukasevansherman rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Before Updike, before Cheever, before Yates, before Franzen, there was John O'Hara, an author whose reputation has unfortunately been eclipsed by many of his peers (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck). This dark, yet sympathetic novel sets the template for pretty much every novel that deals with suburban malaise, the suffocation of conventional life and male angst. Fittingly, Updike wrote the introduction.

Aug 17, 2011
  • vickiz rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Appointment in Samarra vividly traces Julian English's calamitous and seemingly inexplicable path of destruction in 72 hours during the Christmas holidays of 1930. In his early thirties and from an affluent family, college educated, manager of a thriving Cadillac dealership in small town Pennsylvania, married to an attractive and admired woman - there would seem to be nothing significant to explain English's reckless behaviour and decisions that precipitiously eradicate his professional, personal and even spiritual footing in a matter of days. Even more so than Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry's 1947 novel that captures a doomed character's similarly compressed and irrevocable slide into oblivion, Appointment in Samarra is a breathless read, where one simply can't look away until it's over.

O'Hara's novel showed great daring for its time, with respect to language and subject matter, touching on everything from alcohol consumption to sexual relations, marital infidelity, criminal activities and even suggestive clothing. The narration and dialogue are brisk and jazzy, albeit somewhat dated, but still vibrantly capture the idiom of the Prohibition and pre Great Depression era. The propulsive action of the story - wherein English lurches from one social gaffe to increasingly more disastrous, perverse behaviours - while compelling in its own right, almost overshadows O'Hara's equal daring with more experimental themes and stylistic approaches. These include the suggestions that English's bewildering flameout is somehow predestined, suggested by the novel's epigraph, hinted at in references to English's grandfather and even prefigured by the time frame of the novel, where there are mentions of the looming economic and social storm clouds of the Depression. As well, O'Hara employs shifting voices and points of view, and even some striking stream of consciousness narration.

Finally, O'Hara brings the novel to a startling non sequitur of a conclusion that drives home a memorable, almost existential lesson: the irony of how one's misdemeanours might never be forgotten, but one's essence and value can vaporize from memory as soon as one is gone.


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