Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Appointment In Samarra by John O'Hara: Read This If

In a break from form, I'm going to introduce this novel (one that I can't believe I'd never heard of let alone read) with the description on the inside cover:
In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville, PA, 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. Brimming with wealth and privilege, jealousy and infidelity, O'Hara's iconic first novel is an unflinching look at the dark side of the American dream--and a lasting testament to the keen social intelligence of a major American writer.
Appointment in Samarra is a more frank, less stylized novel touching on the same themes as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - not that The Great Gatsby isn't fantastic - it is - this novel just presents its characters with more raw humanity than a novel as tight and stylized as TGG could possibly allow. The title, too, is quite clever - as a member of my book club pointed out, it's not only a metaphor for Julian's own fast demise, but, as the novel is set in 1930, a year after the crash of '29 that set off the Great Depression, it's also a metaphor for the rapid disintegration of a particular way of life. (Luckily O'Hara changed it from it's original - The Infernal Grove.)

You should definitely read this if:
  • You enjoyed The Great Gatsby and are looking for something set in a similar time period following a similar crowd.
  • You love realistic dialogue. (O'Hara was apparently accused of writing his dialogue TOO realistically.)
  • You want to know what the inside of an alcoholic's mind looks like. (I'm told it's quite realistic, so, beware.)
  • You wondered what the Jane Austen style of marrying off upper class men and women might look like in 1930s small town America.
  • You're looking for a short, fast read.
  • You have always wondered what might happen if you acted on some of your lesser impulses. (Answer: Nothing good.)
You might want to steer clear of this novel if:
  • Straight forward writing about sex and sexuality offends you.
  • You require happy endings. (If you know the story of the appointment in Samarra as retold by W. Somerset Maugham, which serves as an epigraph to this novel, I'm not giving anything away here.)
  • The crazed haze of alcoholism hits too close to home for you at this particular moment.
  • You are easily depressed.
  • You can't stand novels in which you're often silently pleading with the main character to make better choices.
Make better choices, all. Read this novel.

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. (I'm so glad I did - I wouldn't have known to read this otherwise.)
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