99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read American Author
Fitzgerald, Hemingway, C.S.Lewis, John Cheever. If any one of these authors was ever important to you, please pick up O'Hara. He's critical to understanding twentieth century American authors. At the very least, you can engage in the unending debate on whether he's worthy of joining this pantheon of writers. Worthy of an airport paperback rack? Smalltime trashy...
Published on October 16, 2002 by S. A. Cartwright
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I am hungover now--3 1/2 stars
The book starts with a great tale by Maugham which deliciously foreshadows the fate of the story. A small town in the early 20th Century where small social groups drank and danced as if nothing else mattered than their status in their party circles and enemies and friends mingled. Julian and Caroline English definitely had secure places in this little community until...
Published on June 5, 2010 by whj
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99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read American Author,
This review is from: Appointment in Samarra (Library Binding)
Fitzgerald, Hemingway, C.S.Lewis, John Cheever. If any one of these authors was ever important to you, please pick up O'Hara. He's critical to understanding twentieth century American authors. At the very least, you can engage in the unending debate on whether he's worthy of joining this pantheon of writers. Worthy of an airport paperback rack? Smalltime trashy romance writer? Or do you think he paints a richly textured canvas of an America and its high society about to be turn the corner on the first half of the 20th century? An important Irish-Catholic writer?
My tip: read this book. If nothing else you'll learn about bituminous and anthracitic coal, the United Mine Workers, how to mix a martini, (and throw one), why fraternities were ever important, and what a flivver was. It's certainly a period piece, and O'Hara does not hold back with the language of the jazz age...which may confuse modern readers (it was a gay party, his chains dropped a link, etc.) In fact, O'Hara was an early adopter of using slang and vernacular in writing the spoken word, and you can be the judge of whether or not he gets an Irish mobster's (or a "high hat's") tone correctly.
He's really at his best with character development, because Julian English (our protaganist) is our bigoted confidante, our tiresome spouse, our wretched boss, our surly neighbor, our spoiled college-boy brat, our pretentious friend and our preening big man about town all in one. O'Hara waltzes us through Julian's demise and we root for him, for one more chance, all the way down.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strange Read,
It would be easy to dismiss "Appointment in Samarra" as insignificant when compared to other, more well known literature. It's certainly a quick, entertaining read, very funny at times, with a loose, somewhat disjointed quality that gives the whole novel a strange tone. Separate events and characters are introduced that don't seem to have any obvious relation to one another, and at the book's end, they still don't. However, as a time capsule of a specific place and time in American cultural history, it's very well done and fascinating to read.
At its basic level, "Samarra" inserts a stick of dynamite into the safe, complacent world of affluent, East coast snobbery by introducing into it an influx of immigrants and "new" money. The WASP environment of cocktail parties, Ivy League schools and country clubs couldn't be sheltered forever from European emigres, specifically Jews, with money of their own. I don't want to give anything of the plot away, but I will say that there is a tragedy in this book, and the ripples it sends through the rich community that serves as the focus of this novel's story are meant to signify the larger ripples affecting American culture on a much greater scale as the heady days of the Roaring 20's give way to the more sombre and politically aware days of the 30's and 40's.
I'm not completely sure what to make of a side story involving some petty mobsters, but I assume their intrusion into the fabric of this East coast society is meant as yet one more example of the loss of security from which these people felt by rights they would be sheltered.
There is no reason not to read "Appointment in Samarra." It won't take up much of your time, and I promise you won't ever be bored by it. Whether you'll find it profound or especially memorable is another story. I didn't particularly find it either, but I would recommend it nonetheless.
55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars But Who Has the Appointment?,
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The title comes from a tale attributed to Somerset Maugham (reprinted just in front of the first page of my edition). As story goes, the servant of a merchant in Baghdad sees Death in the marketplace, is sure she's coming for him, and asks permission to go hide from her in the town of Samarra. The merchant agrees, but then goes to the marketplace himself to have some words with Death about how she treated his servant. (I wish I had a boss like that!) Death denies having threatened the man, "I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
From the very beginning, then, we know that the novel concerns someone with an inevitable appointment with Death which he/she cannot escape. Within a few pages, we even know who. Only the particulars remain - or so it would seem.
Julian English does make his appointment with Death, but the author deliberately destroys the impression of inevitability he spent most of the novel creating. Up to the very end, we believe that Julian's impulsive act of throwing a drink into the face of Harry Reilly, his most important creditor, sealed his fate. We, together with Julian, believe that his alienating Reilly leads inevitably to Julian's financial ruin, and, seeing no way out, Julian commits a series of ever more self-destructive acts culminating in his suicide.
And then we learn that Harry Reilly attached no significance to the thrown drink and that he liked Julian all along. Julian's death was not inevitable after all. Also, far from trying to flee his fate, Julian rushes headlong into it, leading one to conclude that Julian isn't the one with the appointment in Samarra after all.
At first that seems absurd - Julian is the central character of the novel, after all. But Julian isn't actually the center of the novel - the people of Gibbsville are. We learn all about the state of Gibbsville in 1930, meeting about fifty different characters from all walks of life - incredible in such a short (240 pages) novel. O'Hara's has no sympathy for the upper classes, and he depicts their society as decadent, corrupt and declining - people who try to pretend that nothing has happened despite the Crash of 1929 and the loss of the coal market, even as a new generation of entrepreneurs like Harry Reilly displaces them. They don't deserve the fine things they have, nor will they keep them much longer
O'Hara shows his real sympathies in the short segments about Luther L. Fleigler and his wife at the beginning and ending of the book. Luther works for Julian's Cadillac dealership, and just as his hard work contrasts with the sloth of the upper classes, so too his happy relationship with his wife contrasts starkly with Julian and Caroline's poisoned marriage. The future belongs to them.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big themes steeped in the idiom of the day,
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O'Hara's distinctive literary voice is both unique and disarming. For the first hundred pages I was unsure that O'Hara was even a competent writer, nevermind author of one of the century's great novels. His narrative technique and dialogue both are steeped in the jargon of his heyday, Prohibition Era, small town America. But O'Hara deals with big themes and the idiom of his day becomes secondary. He seems to want to take on big questions: why is the moth so driven to the flame? Why do we so willingly capitulate to baser instincts? Why can't we be satisfied, even happy with what we have? Why are we so often driven for more? More of what? At what price? Why are human beings insatiable? Julian English is an affluent man in his early thirties with a going business, a beautiful wife, Caroline, and social status in Gibbsville, a small town north and west of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. His alcoholic habits drive him to dismantle every important social relationship in his life until he becomes essentially a social misfit, incapable of decent behavior among his family, friends, peers and colleagues. He seems determined to keep an appointment with death and has a death wish entombed in his heart. O'Hara's brief experimental flights with stream of consciousness propel us into the inner depths of his characters where we can feel their agony. His treatment of big themes with such a natural voice sets O'Hara apart. Be sure to experience this one of a kind American literary voice.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great American Novel.,
�Appointment in Samarra� is a great novel. I was led to read it by an article in the Atlantic Monthly that lamented the pretentiousness of much of contemporary writing. Not only is the writing pretentious, but it doesn�t say anything intelligible. �Appointment in Sammara�, by contrast, tells a story in a direct manner while still revealing to us hidden truths about the human spirit. It�s not giving anything away to say that the story concerns the self-destruction of one Julian English. Julian is suave, Protestant, lives in the finest neighborhood, and hangs out with the in crowd. But Julian makes the mistake of throwing his drink into the face of a powerful, nouveau riche Irish Catholic. Suddenly, Julian�s support structures don�t seem so firm. Julian�s descent is heart breaking because, although he is not an especially likeable person, John O�Hara still manages to make us care for him. O�Hara�s book was prophetic in that it portrays the end of WASP domination in America. The book takes place in 1930 and was published in 1934 � just six years after the Catholic Al Smith was denied the presidency by a virulent anti-Catholic backlash led, in part, by the Klan. We're told that some of the locals in Pottsville are members of the the Klan. Twenty-six years later, in 1960, an Irish Catholic would be elected president. Appointment in Samarra is a must read for those who are serious about the American novel.
49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ranks with Fitzgerald,
At the end of every year, Brian Lamb talks to three authors on a special Booknotes on C-SPAN. Last year one of the guests was Shelby Foote & he said that he was reading some great American authors who folks had sort of forgotten. One of them was John O'Hara. Now I've seen dozens of his books at book sales, so I knew two things: one, he sold a ton of books; two, folks aren't reading them anymore. So I picked up From the Terrace, Appointment in Samarra & a couple collections of the short stories & loved them all. It was very heartening to see that he made this list (Modern Library Top 100).
Appointment tells the story of Julian English, a WASP nervously perched atop the social heap in Gibbsville, PA. At a Christmas party in 1930, he throws a drink in the face of the town's leading Catholic businessman and thus begins his downward spiral.
O'Hara etches very sharp portraits of characters from the varying strata of society & presents a vivid tale of an America & it's establishment shaken by the oncoming Depression and the rise of new Ethnic groups.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent look at small town America,
An excellent look at a Christmas weekend in the life of Julian English, a Cadillac dealer in a small town in Pennyslvania, and his wife Caroline. Many scenes, especially those that take place at the local country club, are expertly sketched and in Dr English, Julian's father, O'Hara creates a model of concise characterization. I did find the flashbacks in the lives of Julian and Caroline somewhat tedious, however.The book also works as a slice of history, from a time when the full devastation to be wrought by the Great Depression was not forseen. The ending, reminiscent of "The Great Gatsby", has a beautiful irony which lingers in the mind.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One cannot transcend a destiny sealed by character flaws,
O'Hara pierces the character of the Protestant elite, which in some ways set off a stampede in literature that continued to deconstruct WASP culture throughout 20th century literature. Set in a pseudonymous town resembling O'Hara's own Pottsville, Pennsylvania of the 1920's, this tale of an insecure WASP who precipitates his own demise by tossing a drink in the face of the town's most prominent and moneyed Catholic, builds to a feverish yet melancholy end. A book that influenced many great modern writers, it is a timeless story of class resentment and the downward spiral of a tortured soul in a comfortable existence.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read in twenty years,
To be fair, I am twenty-one years old. However, I hope the accolade still means something when I say that this is my absolute favorite book.
O'Hara's magic is in his dialogue, which I've heard someone describe as "the way people would speak if everyone was completely honest all the time." It's fascinating, and if you're a writer, I dare you not to write dialogue, or try to, like O'Hara when you finish one of his short stories.
The magic of "Appointment in Samarra" is its the sharp eye it turns on small-town upper middle class, its willingness to be cruel and tragic, and the usual impressive O'Hara treatment of creating an entire fictional universe out of Gibbsville, PA, which is based on O'Hara's hometown, Pottsville, PA (best known for coal mining and the Yuengling brewery). The Gibbsbville world continues through several of O'Hara's other works; characters in his trilogy of novellas, "Sermons and Soda Water," even make reference to Julian and Caroline English, the protagonists of "Samarra."
The tragedy of O'Hara, of course, is the tendency to tuck him away under Hemingway and Fitzgerald despite his equally brilliant and prolific career. This is due in part to his unpleasant personality, but what brilliant, important artist wasn't unpleasant? I for one will not let his name or this amazing work go unnoticed without a fight.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly, one of the Great American Novels,
I have to admit that if it wasn't for the Modern Library's famous Top 100 List, I may have never heard of O'Hara or this title. But I have read it now, and I'm here to preach the gospel of the converted. Holy cow! What a book!
In a nutshell, this book is about a reckless young man's weeklong fall from social grace, and his ultimate plunge into despair. All of this comes about from dissatisfaction with his life; his anger, resentment, and mistrust toward those around him; his drinking; and his penchant for burning bridges with the wrong people at the wrong time.
Told in lean, smooth prose, this book reads almost like a noir crime novel. The dialog is spot-on, and the story is filled with full-fleshed, flawed characters that all seem to have a seedy side to them. O'Hara also has a terrific knack for portraying how people behave under immense strain.
I've read that, in his day, many considered O'Hara to be a "trash novelist." He was often criticized for injecting references to his characters' violent behavior and their unusual sexual tastes. But this is part of what makes his writing so effective. Even though Samarra came out in 1934, it still has shock value. Mind you, these references are not graphic. They appear abruptly and casually, with little or no elaboration. But they are jarring. The net effect is that they sneak under your skin in subtle ways, causing you to see the characters and their underlying psychologies far more vividly.
The combination of dialog, uncluttered description, and deft characterization make O'Hara one of the truly forgotten greats of American letters. For what it's worth, I ordered four more O'Hara titles immediately after finishing this book. I think he is THAT good. Fans of Erskine Caldwell, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, and the like, take note. O'Hara is the real deal. You won't be disappointed.
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Appointment in Samarra (Penguin Classics Deluxe) by John O'Hara (Paperback - April 30, 2013)