New Take on BUtterfield 8

BUtterfield 8 Gets New Review

By Brian
Via re 2008-08-11

On the surface, John O'Hara's BUtterfield 8 appears to be closer aligned with pulp than a serious work of fiction-- with it taking place during the Great Depression when the upper class elite found themselves worrying about finances and still mingling with the lower classes as a result of the country only being a year or two out of prohibition, back when the drink had to be found illegally and new sexual practices subsequently arose. In other words, 'slumming it' was still quite common, with wealthy men in New York City and those younger women who were not so lucky and looking for something better. Reminds me of Holly Golightly. From this you can probably sort of guess what the book is about, and certainly nothing that's too far beyond from what we have found with our politicians over the past few years.

However, O'Hara's sensitivity to personalities and class motivations, which I found in his short stories, are just as prevalent in BUtterfield 8 (which was wri tten when O'Hara was 29). The result is an incredible work of realism, and still entirely, eerily, relevant. Consider the death of the D.C. Madam. Was it really a suicide? Maybe closer in form to murder? The same gray areas lay in the depths of O'Hara's story. Within the introduction, when Fran Lebowitz comments upon her first reading of the book as a teenager:

But neither did I, at thirteen, have anywhere near a full appreciation of O'Hara's true sophistication, his genuine civility, his inherent ability to discern, to apprehend, to empathize. His exceptional alertness to what was far from admirable in those he was so disparaged for admiring. His impeccable understanding of what brutal use can be made of impeccable behavior, of how closely the cut of a suit can approximate the cut of a knife.
I used to think that the fabric of American society has not changed much since World War II. I now move that date back 20 years. I'm also getting a much better grasp towards what constitutes 'American Literature'.

posted by Brian @ 6:03 PM

1 comment:

jamesmacdonald7 said...

I agree and thank you heartily for saying it. It lends weight to my preference for Butterfield 8 over, for example, Appointment in Samarra. The novel is anything but the trash it's reputed to be, thanks to the film's travesty screenplay. How I wish the film was out of copyright so that a faithful adaptation could replace it and bring readers to the novel.