on September 22, 2000
This book started off really well. The first part with Hubert Ward conniving the people around him to make ends meet and his growing stardom in the theatre were all electrifying--O'Hara at his very best--but it all goes downhill after that. First of all, O'Hara writes in exposition in the beginning and in the epilogue that Ward was a heel, but I never got that impression throughout the narrative, and Ward even came off as rather honest, blunt, and down-to-earth. Second of all, his marriage to Nina Stephens was absolutely unbelievable; and I think O'Hara may have been reading a little too much Hemingway; some of the dialog between Ward and Nina were starkly reminiscent of several early Hemingway novels. And there were even two suicides, AGAIN recalling Gatsby. Overall, "The Big Laugh" is substandard O'Hara, but a pleasurable quick read utterly without pretension and profundity. As usual, O'Hara wrote brilliantly and never wrought a boring line of prose, and he was a speed reader's dream come true.
on June 7, 2000
John O'Hara wrote in several geographies: Gibbsville, PA; Manhattan, NY; and Hollywood. The Big Laugh is one of his Hollywood novels. In his entire body of work (and it is prodigious), I would put this in the bottom 25%. It begins with a nobody forging a career in hollywood by blackmailing the first person to give him an acting job. A weak premise not usually found in O'Hara's plots. It ends with a twist -- hence the Big Laugh. This is the type of novel that is only enjoyed by someone who is a diehard fan of the author. The plotting is weak; it's missing the dialogue and little details that are a hallmark of O'Hara's outstanding work.