Thursday, March 15, 2012

Appointment In Samarra

by John O'Hara

Told from a variety of viewpoints and through flashbacks, this often grim novel of manners centers on one Julian English, the owner of a Cadillac dealership, and his fall from society’s good graces.  After drunkenly flinging a drink in the face of Harry Reilly at a party, Julian is rather unsettled to find that this act has deeper consequences than he realized.  Reilly is well-liked, free with his money, was once a suitor of Julian’s wife before she married him, and has lent Julian himself a large sum of money to keep the dealership afloat.  The Catholic community rallies around Harry, and Julian, always a hard drinker, turns to alcohol, which leads to another poor decision.  His tenuous marriage in serious trouble and more or less cut out from polite society, Julian considers fleeing or suicide.

This is an astonishing novel, with a large cast of fully-drawn characters from all walks of life, and complete with cutting commentary on the vapid lives of high society.  This is not a simplistic novel of the complacency of the wealthy and the valor of the working class, however.   Despite contrasting Julian’s rocky marriage and inner turmoil with his employees’ somewhat happier lives, and despite Julian’s arrogant loftiness, O’Hara makes the reader empathize with the poor sap, and as he waltzes us through Julian’s decline, we root for him, for one more chance, all the way down.  The coda, in which Life Goes On, and we see that Harry had put no importance to the thrown drink, makes Julian’s “appointment” with destiny all the more tragic.

four stars

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