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Appointment in Samarra [Paperback]

John O'Hara
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bring Back the Novel Jan. 25 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is the first O'Hara novel I've read in decades. Back then, I read for sensationalism. In the ensuing years, like my body, my reading tastes have matured. This book in particular, with its wonderful take on a certain society at a certain point in history, should be read by anyone interested in the modern novel. Way ahead of its time -- astounding that it was published in 1934.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WASP Wastrel Wimps Out June 11 2004
Format:Paperback
It all depends. If you class John O'Hara as an American writer of popular fiction, then he must be up there at the very top with detailed descriptions of his society, use of both colloquial and literary language, and character development. If, on the other hand, you put him in that category we often label "classic fiction", then he doesn't measure up to the other greats of his time. I can't place O'Hara alongside Faulkner, Hemingway, Lewis, Fitzgerald, or even Anderson. Still, APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA reads very well; it is fast-paced and involves you with the various characters, it contains humor, and excellently drawn characters.
Julian English, the main protagonist, inherits a place at the top of his society in Gibbsville, Pennsylvania---a pseudonym for Pottstown, where O'Hara grew up. He has married the most desirable girl of his set. What makes him throw a drink in the face of a gentleman who annoys or bores him ? Whatever it is, that starts a most precipitous decline, which only a few days later, leads to a (by then) non-surprise ending. Fate has written it thus, and Julian cannot escape. He doesn't struggle much, that's for sure. Much of the book explores the previous lives of several characters: wife, friends, a small-time gangster. Pottstown life comes across as narrowly provincial, sexually active, fairly alcoholic, at least in its upper reaches, and divided into rigid categories. It has been said before about O'Hara that he creates excellent atmosphere, builds up an intricate plot, and then crashes at the end. This novel is no exception; it just trickles across the finish line.
O'Hara's America is one in which Anglo-Saxons still rule, but live under challenge from newer, perhaps more dynamic groups. The rulers dislike all their challengers intensely.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you like Fitzgerald... April 24 2004
Format:Paperback
Then read this...pronto. Rated the #22 fiction book of the 20th Century, Appointment in Samarra did not disappoint. Being a huge Fitzgerald and Hemingway enthusiast and seeing how both recommended this book wholeheartedly, I concluded it to be a can't miss prospect. Something about the shameless decadence, the seemingly limitless ambition, & the uproariously good times that were had during The Jazz Age made it such a riveting and inimitable setting for the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and John O'Hara. While I wouldn't quite include O'Hara in a class with his two contemporaries, Appointment in Samarra does, however, make a strong case for its serious inclusion not too far behind such works as The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, etc.
What strikes me as a distinct divergence from such works as The Great Gatsby is that it, unlike Gatsby, it takes place at the onset of The Great Depression - just after Gatsby's epoch. So, in a sense, Appointment is not all fun and games and infinite debauchery without any foreseeable repercussions. Of Fitzgerald's works, I liken it most to The Beautiful and Damned - the perpetual dynamics of a moral vacuum, alcoholism, self-destructive proclivities, failed relationships, adultery, etc. are all readily present -- as is the constant and unflagging conviction of Julian as he steadfastly holds on to any vestige of his integrity through it all.
In summation, the extraordinarily crass (although realistic and highly entertaining) dialogue, superb characterization of a veritable endless array of diverse individuals, & a fluid and genuinely suspenseful plot are what make this a great, although somewhat morose, American novel not to be missed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Strange Read Aug. 12 2003
Format:Paperback
It would be easy to dismiss "Appointment in Samarra" as insignificant when compared to other, more well known literature. It's certainly a quick, entertaining read, very funny at times, with a loose, somewhat disjointed quality that gives the whole novel a strange tone. Separate events and characters are introduced that don't seem to have any obvious relation to one another, and at the book's end, they still don't. However, as a time capsule of a specific place and time in American cultural history, it's very well done and fascinating to read.
At its basic level, "Samarra" inserts a stick of dynamite into the safe, complacent world of affluent, East coast snobbery by introducing into it an influx of immigrants and "new" money. The WASP environment of cocktail parties, Ivy League schools and country clubs couldn't be sheltered forever from European emigres, specifically Jews, with money of their own. I don't want to give anything of the plot away, but I will say that there is a tragedy in this book, and the ripples it sends through the rich community that serves as the focus of this novel's story are meant to signify the larger ripples affecting American culture on a much greater scale as the heady days of the Roaring 20's give way to the more sombre and politically aware days of the 30's and 40's.
I'm not completely sure what to make of a side story involving some petty mobsters, but I assume their intrusion into the fabric of this East coast society is meant as yet one more example of the loss of security from which these people felt by rights they would be sheltered.
There is no reason not to read "Appointment in Samarra." It won't take up much of your time, and I promise you won't ever be bored by it. Whether you'll find it profound or especially memorable is another story. I didn't particularly find it either, but I would recommend it nonetheless.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The High English in Coal Country
Classism and alcoholism before any 'disease model' or political correctness. Reading this book is like some sort of regression into a time when your name was your destiny and if... Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2002 by L. Dann
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read American Author
Fitzgerald, Hemingway, C.S.Lewis, John Cheever. If any one of these authors was ever important to you, please pick up O'Hara. Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2002 by S. A. Cartwright
3.0 out of 5 stars Cars, coaltowns, and cocktails at the country club
This appears to be a novel written by a young writer that was not to happy with the people in his hometown. Read more
Published on July 26 2002 by Stan Eissinger
3.0 out of 5 stars Societal troubles in a so-called civilized world
This book is like American Beauty of the 1930s. A man, trapped into a rigid social order, bursts out uncontrollably. Read more
Published on Feb. 17 2002 by sporkdude
5.0 out of 5 stars hits painfully close to home
I didn't know what to expect when I began this book. John O'Hara--wasn't Paul Newman or Elizibeth Taylor in some flick I might not have seen, based on one of his books or short... Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2002 by asphlex
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Honest
John O'Hara is like a cross between F.S. Fitzgerald and D.H. Lawrence, if you care to think of it in those terms. Read more
Published on Dec 12 2001 by Scooper
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great American Novel.
ï¿Appointment in Samarraï¿ is a great novel. I was led to read it by an article in the Atlantic Monthly that lamented the pretentiousness of much of contemporary... Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2001 by Frank Gibbons
5.0 out of 5 stars But Who Has the Appointment?
The title comes from a tale attributed to Somerset Maugham (reprinted just in front of the first page of my edition). Read more
Published on April 29 2001 by Gregory N. Hullender
5.0 out of 5 stars A great novel about a fall from grace
Here is a story of social grace and disgrace in the tradition of Fitzgerald and Cheever. It takes place in a town called Gibbsville (actually O'Hara's hometown of Pottsville),... Read more
Published on March 12 2001 by A.J.
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