Book #22-Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

While enjoying Appointment in Samarra, I had the feeling I was watching a movie on TCM.  The descriptives gave it the 30’s feel and the lingo made it easy to picture the characters carrying on. And what a multitude of characters are found!

Julian English is the main character who manages to alienate his wife, friends, co-workers, investors and more in self-destructive behavior that has only one outcome, as implied by the title.

Published in 1934, the novel is set in the fictional Gibbsville, Pennsylvania in the 1930’s and revolves around a privileged group who frequent their local country club where alcohol runs in abundance and racist remarks and sexism are not only tolerated, but accepted as the norm.

The array of characters found in Appointment in Samarra would seem endless were they to be listed, but O’Hara managed to present each with ample substance while keeping progress with the story.

Caroline English, is the overly tolerant wife of the main character.  She remains the ever faithful,  acquiescent wife while her husband acts the lecher as well as the belligerent drunk.  The marriage is clearly a doomed relationship.

Al Grecco is an intersting mobster who runs errands for the big boss, Ed Charney including delivering alcohol and keeping an eye on Charney’s mistress, Helene Holman, who Julian leaves the country club with during a dance.

A reporter, Miss Cartwright, visits the English household for a society page update and we meet a woman who is more than she first seems.  She drinks with Julian and then leaves when she realizes he is trying to seduce her.

I would love to sit with Mr. O’Hara and discuss his creative dialogue and his keen insight into the thinking of an alcoholic and those considered lowly on the social scale.  Breakfast, though not too early, would be the preferred meal where no temptation of alcohol would prevail.  I’d love to tell him his writing is Nobel Prize worthy, sans the Yale degree.


But the trouble with making yourself feel better by thinking of bad things that other people have done is that you are the only one who is rounding up the stray bad things.  No one but yourself bothers to make a collection of disasters.  For the time being you are the hero or the villain of the thing that is uppermost in the minds of your friends and acquaintances.

She represented precisely what she came from:  solid, respectable, Pennsylvania Dutch, Lutheran middle class; and when he thought about her, when she made her existence felt, when she actively represented what she stood for, he could feel the little office suddenly becoming overcrowded with a delegation of all the honest clerks and mechanics and housewives and Sunday School teachers and widows and orphans–all the Christiana Street kind of people who he knew secretly hated him and all Lantenengo Street people.

The road was his.  He wanted to drive on the left side and zigzag like an army transport and idle along at four miles an hour.  But one time when he thought the road was his he had done all these things, finally to be arrested for drunken driving by a highway patrolman who had been following him all the while.  “You’d think you owned the road,” the patrolman had said; and Julian could not answer that that was exactly what he had been thinking.

My rating for Appointment in Samarra is a 9 out of 10.

To see the entire list,  visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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Next up, John Dos Passos’ U.S.A.



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