RARA-AVIS: O'Hara & Maugham

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 16 Feb 2002

I could wait until I research and nail down specific titles and such to respond to questions posed regarding my last post. But I know I will think long and hard and want to get it right and the moment will pass and I will never say anything further on O'Hara and Maugham. So with all good intentions to later do it right, let me say a bit more off the top of my head.

On O'Hara, APPOINTMENT IN SAMARA is a fine novel. Some of his later novels are failures and some others are worth reading, including the better known such as A RAGE TO LIVE. Later, less well known novels, such as THE LOCKWOOD CONCERN, are superior to the better known, best sellers. I may have screwed up the exact title of "Lockwood" but it is close enough for you to find it.

As someone else mentioned, seek out his short stories. The man was a master of the form. He could tell a story through dialog better than anyone. The plotline develops through the dialog but in a buried form. It's there on another level. Plus there are stories that I would have to search for to name by title that stick in my memory. One involves a guy who ran a popular barber shop, patronized by the best people in town, but he is undone through stubborn but understandable decisions. It is all so very real and believable and a natural outgrowth of the characters. And somewhere he wrote a story that I have searched to rediscover thirty years after reading it but can't seem to find. A man has a series of dogs to whom he is devoted. Collies I believe they were. When one dies, he obtains another but the pain of losing his old pet is a terrible transition. He reaches a point where he realizes that it is possible that a new pet may outlive him. He does not want a dog to have to suffer as he has suffered and so does not acquire a new collie despite his loneliness. The story is more than that but the pet angle has stayed with me for all this time. It's a bit of business that touches me more as the years go by.

So for O'Hara, I say seek out SAMARA and damn near any collection of short stories. ASSEMBLY (1961) is a representative collection.

Maugham will not be to everyone's taste. I say again that his THE SUMMING UP is a great book on writing. His ASHENDEN is included in many best lists such as that of Ellery Queen. As for his novels, I remember with fondness the novel he based on the last years of Thomas Hardy. I think it was CAKES AND ALE. There are some Maugham mannerisms that I find very off-putting and certainly not all of his tremendous output is worth reading. Yet, he was a wonderful storyteller and some of his lesser known works give me great pleasure.

I love writers who take me by the hand and tell me a story. The feeling is often like running into an interesting old guy at a bar who over a drink spins me a yarn. Check out a collection of Maugham's titled COSMOPOLITANS. These are short shorts named for the magazine that published them but the title has meaning beyond that. This is not great literature but to me it's great entertainment in stories of 1000 to 2000 words. Read "The Man With the Scar" and after the opening paragraph it is impossible not to read to the end...interested, amused, and surprised. These are slight stories but I know a master has held me by the hand and entertained me.

Richard Moore

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