Appointment in Samarra - Reissue


In August Penguin Classics republished Appointment in Samarra, and, as I stated the other day, the introduction by The New York Times writer at large Charles McGrath is worth of the price of this paperback.

Here are two excerpts:

Appointment is a genuine love story, charged with eros but stripped of sentimentality, and the relationship between the Englishes is more convincing and more satisfying than that of, say, Gatsby and Daisy in The Great Gatsby, or Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms. Though unfaithful to her, Julian can't stop loving Caroline, and after O'Hara devotes a whole chapter to her intimate thoughts and sexual explorations before marriage, the reader can't help falling a little in love with her too. Caroline, for her part, reflects at the end of the book: "He was drunk, but he was Julian, drunk or not, and that was more than anyone else was."

O'Hara, who published hundreds of short stories and thirteen collections in his lifetime, was actually a better story writer than he was a novelist, most evidently at the end of his career when the novels had grown bulky and laden with sociological exposition. The stories, by contrast, were almost minimalist, turning on just a line of dialogue or even a passing observation that suggests something crucial has just changed. More Hemmingwayesque than Hemingway - more transparent and less mannered - these stories opened a path for such great American story writers as Salinger, Cheever, Updike, and Carver.

I do agree about falling in love with Caroline, but I don't recall that Julian was ever unfaithful to her.

I don't agree that John O'Hara was a better story writer than a novelist, but I do think that overall Charles McGrath's introduction here is a breath of fresh air and departure from all those generally unpleasant literary criticisms over the past several decades.

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