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A Way of Life, Like Any Other (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 31, 2001

3.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"[A] little gem of a novel…a masterwork of Hollywood fiction." — Salon

"A hysterically funny coming—of—age story set in Hollywood in the ‘40s…a kind of Catcher in the Rye for the Cheap Trick generation." — GQ

"How is it that this minor comic masterpiece could ever have gone out of print? Darcy O’Brien’s 1977 novel…takes us into an alien culture, Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and evokes that kitschy world with spectacularly deadpan humor." — Michael Dirda, The Atlantic Monthly

"A hilarious addition to the fabulous Hollywood novel, this time laconic, understated, deadpan, ruthlessly cutting from scene to scene and character to character, and both witty and moving. I enjoyed it enormously, and recommend it unreservedly as a funny, serious, literate, and intelligent book." — The Guardian

"It is the real thing….It’s bound to go like a greyhound, fast and fine." — Seamus Heaney

"This novel’s teen—age hero, a kind of West Coast Holden Caulfield, tells of his surreal coming of age in Hollywood as the son of a former cowboy star and a faded actress. When their marriage breaks up, he bounces around town trying to find his bearings, with results both farcical and serious." — Press-Telegram

"O’Brien’s storytelling voice is at once eminently sensible and attuned to absurdity; he sees what’s amusing in his world without rendering it as caricature….A Way of Life, Like Any Other takes the same sane, amused attitude to the hyperbolic reality that is Hollywood. Like an infinitely slyer Margaret Mead, O’Brien shows us the culture he grew up in, and living up to his title, helps us understand how this way of life is like any other — sort of, anyway." — John Powers, LA Weekly, Best L.A. Novel

"Spawned by a pair of movie stars from Hollywood’s golden age, the unnamed boy narrator of this indirect and vinegary little book wonders: Was there ever so pampered an ass as mine?" — Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Darcy O’Brien (1939-1998) was born in Los Angeles, the son of the movie stars George O’Brien and Marguerite Churchill. He attended Princeton and the University of California, Berkeley, and taught at the University of Tulsa. O’Brien’s first novel, A Way of Life, Like Any Other, won the PEN/Hemingway award. His books include the novels The Silver Spooner and Margaret in Hollywood, critical studies of James Joyce and Patrick Kavanagh, and several other works of nonfiction, among themTwo of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers and The Hidden Pope.

Seamus Heaney’s first poetry collection, Death of a Naturalist, appeared forty years ago. Since then he has published poetry, criticism, and translations that have established him as one of the leading poets of his generation. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (August 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 094032279X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322790
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jay Dickson VINE VOICE on August 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Darcey O'Brien's fine Bildungsroman is a very funny and lethal depiction of a golden Hollywood childhood which begins to tarnish as his parents' careers do. The narrator's parents--a histrionic former screen beauty obsessed with sex and a former Western star of amiable disposition but sometimes hidden motives--unconsciously (and even sometimes consciously) wreak all kinds of havoic in their son's life, but as he gets older the son begins to fight back in covert ways. This was exactly the kind of book that the NYRB series was created to revive: a funny and poignant novel of sterling quality that somehow slipped through the cracks of readers' attention years ago and deserves a new chance.
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Format: Paperback
The writing here is so filled with generosity, compassion, and dark humor -- it's a most charming view of life. A coming-of-age novel about a boy who grows up in post-WW II Hollywood, shuffling between unforgettable, screwed-up parents. There's not a dead sentence here. It's short, but O'Brien captures it all. Completely re-readable. Keep it by your bedside to inspire and forgive your own life when you feel like it's trying to beat you down.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In his introduction to this reissue of a novel first published in 1977, Seamus Heaney dwells on Darcy O'Brien's Irishness (comparing him to Joyce and Flann O'Brien) and ponders how one might attempt to describe the book: "Autobiographical novel, fictionalized memoir: whether we regard the book as 'cri de coeur' or comic turn..."

O'Brien's Irish heritage seems beside the point (must every Irish American writer be placed against Joyce and Flann O'Brien?), but this is, indeed, a work that skirts the line between fact and fiction. Heaney's literary acumen aside, this is also a very American book--more specifically a highbrow model of that lowest of middlebrow fiction, the Hollywood novel. More germanely to the author, it is a raw, impassioned, and surprisingly tender ode to his parents--a pair of has-been, real-life film stars down on their luck and at odds with each other. Finding humor (both lighthearted and morbid) amid relative misery, "A Way of Life" is far more a precursor to the confessional works by the likes of David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, and Jeannette Walls than a successor to early-twentieth-century Irish fiction.

Hollywood has never been shy about laughing at itself; readers will recognize many of the central-casting players depicted here, along with the shallow pretensions of the jet set.
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Format: Paperback
I learned of this book from a British newspaper, in a list of forgotten books that deserved to be rediscovered. I chose it from the list almost by chance. How lucky I feel now, like someone traveling in a foreign city who meets an old friend by chance.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a picaresque tale of Hollywood in the fifties, hilarious and scathing. A novel, almost a memoir. The protagonist (like Darcy O'Brien himself) is the child of two Hollywood stars in decline.

At first glance you might mistake the book for one of those happy/sad accounts of famous parents that turn up now and then in The New Yorker magazine. But this novel is much funnier and sadder and not nearly so harmless. Darcy O'Brien is willing to be angrier than almost anyone will admit to being nowadays. His account of his mother's defeat by a Christmas Pudding is very funny and very sad, but most of all it is furious.

Demolishing several lives in 155 pages, this is a novel in a delicious hurry, racking up conquests and disasters at a careening speed that seems both fun and generous, like a brilliant friend who buys your drinks all night and says, "Brace yourself. I'm going to tell you everything."

How this book has avoided becoming a famous movie is a total mystery. The closest thing to a moral comes on page 105: "No child aspires to repeat the tragedy of his parents but must avert the compulsion to do so."
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Format: Paperback
Darcy O'Brien combines the surreal humor of Flann O'Brien and the limpid prose of the young James Joyce and somehow writes a coming of age book which transcends both mentors in some ways. Lean, cool, dry, witty, but in the end, mysteriously poignant. Anthony Powell always argued that seen at close range all human beings, driven as they are at different speeds by the same furies, are equally extraordinary. O'Brien proves Powell's point, in prose reminscent of that master's early comic novels.
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This book is hailed as a classic; I found it sad and tedious. A thinly changed bio by a Hollywood boy, the product of a faded once popular cowboy star and an angry, self- diluded mother. The tone is snarky, the laughs few, the message depressing.
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I bought this because it was cheap and it sounded very interesting and it was up to a point. It's a sad memoir of growing up in the 70's and it could have been anybody, not just someone in Hollywood. I thought there would be some redemption, some point to this whole book but there wasn't. It just ended. I had to make sure it wasn't a sample. It really did just end like jumping off a cliff and actually I didn't care.
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