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on July 15, 2004
Sparked by the mysterious real life drowning in 1931 of a young New York woman who was later revealed to be a bit of a good time girl as well as victim of childhood sexual abuse, O'Hara's second novel remains remarkably fresh and readable, with surprising sensibilities for the time toward topics such as pedophilia and alcoholism. Of course, alcoholism is something O'Hara had first-hand experience with. A contemporary of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and an intimate of Dorothy Parker, he was a renown nasty drunk, with a penchant for three day benders. This experience serves him well in this study of Gloria Wandrous, a pretty, promiscuous woman who spends a good part of her young life trying to drink her demons away in Manhattan's Prohibition-era speakeasies. Her demons stem from being sexually abused as a child, a trauma that led to her sexual promiscuity when she is more mature (interestingly, recent studies have revealed a significant correlation between sexual abuse as a child and promiscuity later in life).
Gloria is what used to be called "damaged goods"óunderneath her brittle shell and drunken pain, she is smart, kind and caring. Despite these fine qualities, she's emotionally unequipped to deal with true love and tries to run away from it, as she does from everything else. On the first page we learn that she will meet an unhappy ending, and then the story begins with Gloria waking in the apartment of her latest one-night stand and walking out with the man's wife's fur coat. This spur of the moment decision has a series of repercussions, which play out over the next few days as a whole slew of characters intersect and the threads of the simple plot are brought together. The book's main flaw is that there are far to many of these characters coming and going throughout the pages, and one needs a scorecard to keep track. This may have been a result of his playing to his strengths, which were a keen eye and the ability to quickly capture a person in a few lines. Much of this skill is directed in a strident satire of the upper classes (which he had a strange envy/hate relationship). A good deal of effort is expended in portraying their lives as either endlessly trivial or monstrously prurient. And it is significant that it is eminently respectable men who abuse Gloria in her youth.
This is not a cautionary tale of a young woman corrupted by the big city, but a lament for the effects of a monstrous crime perpetrated against a child. The style is very simple and direct, which is perhaps why it remains fresh and contemporary. It is remarkably frank about sexual matters considering it was written seventy years ago by a mainstream popular writeróbeyond the simple promiscuity, group and public sex acts are described. It's not the most fascinating book, but it can definitely be recommended to those with an interest in New York City, Prohibition, or sexual abuse. There is a fair amount of ambiguity in some of the episodes, and most especially in the ending, so those who need clean resolutions are hereby warned.
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on May 1, 2004
O'Hara, it has been said, writes like you always wish Fitzgerald had actually written. He describes much the same privileged world, but without the chocolate-box sentimentality. His characters are often moral monsters--to themselves as well as others--but they do seem real, as does the New York world of speakeasies and glamorous apartments in 1931 he describes here. His central character, Gloria Wandrous, a beautiful cosmopolitan girl living on her wits and her sex appeal, seems a clear forerunner of Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly, except she is much less madcap and much more tragic. The central action is Gloria's swiping an expensive fur coat from the closets of a married wealthy new Yorker who brought her to his apartment and tore her dress off in order to date-rape her; we are then introduced to a series of characters who will all come together through the chain of events set off by Gloria's taking of the coat. This is a hard book to put down. Though the world it describes is incredibly sordid, it feels like a place you could easily visit and recognize.
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on May 22, 2003
I have enjoyed O'Hara in the past and I had always wanted to read this book. When I saw that Fran Leibowitz wrote the introduction, I thought "it's time."
O'Hara sets the book in the early 1930's in New York City. He focuses his sharp powers of observation on the "speakeasy" class of New York: those individuals with still enough wealth to spend time in illegal bars drinking their worries away. At first, you think "ah, these are the beautiful people." Of course, soon you realize that these individuals are anything but beautiful.
The heroine, or anti-heroine, Gloria, is a beautiful, young woman of loose morals and some inherited wealth. She is smart-we're told she could have gone to Smith-and underneath everything, kind. But sexual abuse early on triggered a rampant promiscuity.
O'Hara specializes in delineating the subtle class differences-the Catholics who went to Yale as opposed to the Wasps-that existed at this time. He structures class systems in his novels as rigidly as any Brahmin.
I would recommend this book for individuals who enjoy contemporary fiction, particularly books set in New York that depict wealthy, beautiful people. (If you like Fitzgerald, you'll like this book.) Both men and women can enjoy this book-as Fran Leibowitz says in her introduction, "it's a young man's book" in many ways.
I would not recommend this book for individuals who dislike "dated" fiction (though this book is surprising fresh in many ways) or books that verge on melodrama.
One note about the Leibowitz's introduction: I found it excellent. She has some acute observations-sex is an animal desire, the perception of it human and changing according to mores in vogue-that have stayed with me.
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on October 13, 2000
In his astoundingly productive career, John O'Hara wrote 402 stories and 14 novels. Reportedly, he drove fellow staffers at The New Yorker to fury because he could sit down at a typewriter and just bang away at the keys nonstop until a finished story rolled out. (These facts come from John Sacret Young's intro to this book.) I've read several of the story collections and a couple of the novels and O'Hara's style is fairly distinctive. He plumbs the faultlines of society where the slumming rich meet with the aspiring poor. His stories are driven by dialogue and crisp, witty, trenchant dialogue at that, much like the hard-boiled private eye novels of Hammett and Chandler. His tone is cynical; his subjects doomed. You get the sense that if he knew a pedestrian was about to be run down in front of him, he wouldn't even turn his head. And after witnessing the accident he'd race to a typewriter to share the ugly scene with his readers. He is a kind of an upscale noir writer, a tony purveyor of pulp fiction.
BUtterfield 8 is a roman a clef (based on a real incident) and you can see why the story appealed to him. On June 8, 1931, the dead body of a young woman named Starr Faithfull--no seriously, her name was Starr Faithfull--was found on Long Beach, Long Island. Subsequent reporting uncovered a life of easy morals and much time spent in speakeasies and such piquant details as her childhood molestation by a former mayor of Boston. Despite rumors of political motives for her murder and a supposed secret diary, no one was ever charged in her death.
O'Hara recreates her as Gloria Wandrous, and introduces her on the novel's first page as follows:
On this Sunday morning in May, this girl who later was to be the cause of a sensation in New York, awoke much too early for her night before. One minute she was asleep, the next she was completely awake and dumped into despair.
This is no happy go lucky flapper he offers up. From that first despairing morning, when she steals a mink coat from the apartment where she wakes in order to replace the dress that her date tore off of her the night before, O'Hara details a brutal, unhappy, ultimately empty life that spirals down towards the inevitable senseless death.
O'Hara said that in Gloria Wandrous he created Elizabeth Taylor before there was an Elizabeth Taylor (she starred in a movie version), just as in Pal Joey, he created Sinatra before Sinatra. In hindsight, the better comparison is probably to Marilyn Monroe. Regardless, his portrayal of a city girl on the edge, and of her eventual destruction, is iconographic and, if it did not create Taylor and Monroe, it certainly influenced writers from Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany's) to Jay McInerney (Story of My Life).
I wouldn't recommend trying to tackle his entire ouvure in one fell swoop, but you should definitely try out this one, Appointment in Samarra, From the Terrace and some of the stories. For my money, the incisive savagery with which he lays bare his generation should rank him with F. Scott Fitzgerald.
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on July 30, 2000
I picked up this book knowing nothing about it, and I have to say it was a real stroke of luck. This book gives a totally honest view of New York society in the 1930's. The whole speakeazy culture is expertly described by an author who has clearly lived in that environment. It's interesting as well to see how much they could get away with in those days; there is a great deal of inuendo in these pages which goes well with the books general theme of looking beneath the surface of things, in particular the image of America as a respectable, clean-living nation. It is also interesting to note that this book was banned in Britain for years after it was first published.
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on July 9, 2000
This is a great book -- it combines gritty realism with trashy romance and John O'Hara's writing style is superb. In fact, it's his deadpan, no-nonsense reportage that makes Gloria's exploits seem all the more scandalous, even 65 years later. (It's a little known fact that the main character, Gloria, was also the subject of Laura Brannigan's early 80's disco hit, 'Gloria.') O'Hara also expertly weaves in a lot of Depression era history that New Yorkers in particular will appreciate: he describes the speakeasy culture in vivid detail, but my favorite historical moment is when two characters are walking down Sixth Avenue and pass by a construction site where Radio City Music Hall will be built. Basically, I recommend this book for anyone who wants to enjoy a sexy story with a good plot, and would like some culture and history along with it.
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on May 19, 2000
I wish I had been a literature major instead of a mathematics major so I could express my appreciation of John O'Hara's writing in the proper literature terms. He is one of my favorite authors of all times. With Butterfield 8, John O'Hara tells a great yarn. You know Gloria is just short of being a prostitute. Yet one feels quite sympathetic for her. I like O'Hara's ability to preserve time periods through his writing. (See Appointment in Samarrra for PA). In this novel, he has managed to preserve what life in the 30's in Manahattan: nightclubbing all night, lots of booze and sex and fun fun fun. Elizabeth Taylor starred as Gloria in the movie of the same name. I think the movie's ending is better than the book's ending.
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on January 20, 2000
I just read this book on my way home from office and whenever I read,it gives me wider view of US in 1930s. I still have long way to go to finish reading this book. On the other hand, My intimacy against US literature is getting narrower. If anybody there who can help me to finish this novel, contact me by clicking
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on January 19, 2000
Well, I just set sail to read this book. all I want to get is not to review this but, to get information about this book before I read it all. Please, consider that I am korean.:)
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