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BUtterfield 8 (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – April 1, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well.” —Ernest Hemingway

From the Inside Flap

A bestseller upon its publication in 1935, BUtterfield 8 was inspired by a news account of the discovery of the body of a beautiful young woman washed up on a Long Island beach. Was it an accident, a murder, a suicide? The circumstances of her death were never resolved, but O?Hara seized upon the tragedy to imagine the woman?s down-and-out life in New York City in the early 1930s.

?O?Hara understood better than any other American writer how class can both reveal and shape character,? Fran Lebowitz writes in her Introduction. With brash honesty and a flair for the unconventional, BUtterfield 8 lays bare the unspoken and often shocking truths that lurked beneath the surface of a society still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. The result is a masterpiece of American fiction.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812966988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812966985
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on October 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
In his astoundingly productive career, John O'Hara wrote 402 stories and 14 novels. Reportedly, he drove fellow staffers at The New Yorker to fury because he could sit down at a typewriter and just bang away at the keys nonstop until a finished story rolled out. (These facts come from John Sacret Young's intro to this book.) I've read several of the story collections and a couple of the novels and O'Hara's style is fairly distinctive. He plumbs the faultlines of society where the slumming rich meet with the aspiring poor. His stories are driven by dialogue and crisp, witty, trenchant dialogue at that, much like the hard-boiled private eye novels of Hammett and Chandler. His tone is cynical; his subjects doomed. You get the sense that if he knew a pedestrian was about to be run down in front of him, he wouldn't even turn his head. And after witnessing the accident he'd race to a typewriter to share the ugly scene with his readers. He is a kind of an upscale noir writer, a tony purveyor of pulp fiction.
BUtterfield 8 is a roman a clef (based on a real incident) and you can see why the story appealed to him. On June 8, 1931, the dead body of a young woman named Starr Faithfull--no seriously, her name was Starr Faithfull--was found on Long Beach, Long Island. Subsequent reporting uncovered a life of easy morals and much time spent in speakeasies and such piquant details as her childhood molestation by a former mayor of Boston. Despite rumors of political motives for her murder and a supposed secret diary, no one was ever charged in her death.
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Comment 51 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I have enjoyed O'Hara in the past and I had always wanted to read this book. When I saw that Fran Leibowitz wrote the introduction, I thought "it's time."
O'Hara sets the book in the early 1930's in New York City. He focuses his sharp powers of observation on the "speakeasy" class of New York: those individuals with still enough wealth to spend time in illegal bars drinking their worries away. At first, you think "ah, these are the beautiful people." Of course, soon you realize that these individuals are anything but beautiful.
The heroine, or anti-heroine, Gloria, is a beautiful, young woman of loose morals and some inherited wealth. She is smart-we're told she could have gone to Smith-and underneath everything, kind. But sexual abuse early on triggered a rampant promiscuity.
O'Hara specializes in delineating the subtle class differences-the Catholics who went to Yale as opposed to the Wasps-that existed at this time. He structures class systems in his novels as rigidly as any Brahmin.
I would recommend this book for individuals who enjoy contemporary fiction, particularly books set in New York that depict wealthy, beautiful people. (If you like Fitzgerald, you'll like this book.) Both men and women can enjoy this book-as Fran Leibowitz says in her introduction, "it's a young man's book" in many ways.
I would not recommend this book for individuals who dislike "dated" fiction (though this book is surprising fresh in many ways) or books that verge on melodrama.
One note about the Leibowitz's introduction: I found it excellent. She has some acute observations-sex is an animal desire, the perception of it human and changing according to mores in vogue-that have stayed with me.
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Format: Paperback
O'Hara, it has been said, writes like you always wish Fitzgerald had actually written. He describes much the same privileged world, but without the chocolate-box sentimentality. His characters are often moral monsters--to themselves as well as others--but they do seem real, as does the New York world of speakeasies and glamorous apartments in 1931 he describes here. His central character, Gloria Wandrous, a beautiful cosmopolitan girl living on her wits and her sex appeal, seems a clear forerunner of Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly, except she is much less madcap and much more tragic. The central action is Gloria's swiping an expensive fur coat from the closets of a married wealthy new Yorker who brought her to his apartment and tore her dress off in order to date-rape her; we are then introduced to a series of characters who will all come together through the chain of events set off by Gloria's taking of the coat. This is a hard book to put down. Though the world it describes is incredibly sordid, it feels like a place you could easily visit and recognize.
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I can't add much to the wonderful customer reviews that come before mine, except to say that I highly recommend this riveting book. I just reread my copy (I first read it when I was 16 [!] and I'm 56 now) and my life experiences have tremendously enhanced my appreciation for the work of that brilliant word-spinner, John O'Hara. Forget the Oscar-winning Elizabeth Taylor movie, which was not filmed as a period piece, but in contemporary 1960 surroundings. This book simply reeks of 1930s New York atmosphere (not that I was there, but I'm a native New Yorker) and the movie makers did the novel a disservice by not retaining the speakeasy flavor of the original. If you're thinking about buying this book, do so immediately; it's a real treat!
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