For some unfathomable reason there seems to be a movement to make John O’Hara into some kind of a neglected literary gem instead of the author of a series of pop lit pot boilers. Personally, I have nothing against pop lit potboilers. I’ve read my share and will continue. Just, please, don’t pretend that what we’re talking about when we’re talking about John O’Hara is William Faulkner.
Yeah, he got a bit racy by portraying women who liked rather than merely endured sex. And sure he tore the cover off the biblical pretensions of small town mores. But so did plenty of others in the twenties and thirties.
An Appointment in Samarra uses a nifty little folk tale for a prologue involving a man trying to avoid death by fleeing Baghdad for Samarra and outsmarting himself. Turns out the tale has heavy applicability to the story at hand, which involves what passes for high society in a small Ohio community. There are affairs and betrayals and lots of drinking. And more drinking. More than even in a couple of Thin Man movies.
The protagonist is Jules English, who left his ideals and sobriety behind many long years past and is doing financially well but morally poorly as the owner of a Cadillac franchise. He has a loving wife without much insight or backbone and whose social standing is the main priority.
However, it all comes down to the writing. And with O’Hara, the depth just about matches that of this review.