Re: RARA-AVIS: Appointment In Samarra

From: Stephen Burridge (
Date: 20 Sep 2009

  • Next message: Jeff Vorzimmer: "Re: RARA-AVIS: Appointment In Samarra"

    This is another book that I read at the time of my visit to Pennsylvania a few years ago (along with "The Valley of Fear".) I agree, a terrific novel and one that is very much a part of the hardboiled/noir fiction world.


    On Sun, Sep 20, 2009 at 4:30 PM, James Michael Rogers <> wrote:
    >  I love keeping one or two canonical books in reserve for when I really need
    > them. This John O'Hara classic fit the bill. In the past, all I have read of
    > O'Hara's were some of the short fiction, which I had mixed feelings about.
    > This was an excellent novel. Maybe not quite the great American novel, but
    > that is clearly what he was shooting for and, for the most part, his
    > ambition was rewarded. It's place in the hardboiled canon has always been a
    > little uneasy, perhaps because of a little reverse snobbery - he was, after
    > all, a New Yorker writer. But when Appointment In Samarra first appeared it
    > was definitely considered the epitome of HB, and by critics who didn't
    > consider that to be a compliment.
    > I would go so far as to say that, without this book, there probably would be
    > no Revolutionary Road and no Mad Men. It envisions the bourgouis world as a
    > kind of Darwinian Hell. Thematically it owes a considerable debt to Scott
    > Fitzgerald, as O'Hara acknowledged, and the style reminds me at times of
    > John Dos Passos.....but mostly this is a unique voice.
    > The sexuality of the book is, um, frank even by today's standards. At the
    > time it appeared, it must have been truly shocking. The novel was published
    > at the same time that Hammett came out with The Thin Man, which garnered
    > some attention for a very oblique reference to a hard-on. O'Hara goes far,
    > far beyond that. Twenty years earlier, publication would doubtless have
    > resulted in an obscenity trial.
    > As I grow older, I find that the old detective stuff satisfies me less and
    > less and this kind of thing satisfies me more and more. If you like Patricia
    > Highsmith's books or Horace McCoy, then I think you will enjoy this. Though
    > enjoy may be the wrong word.
    > The story is quite simple. The struggling protagonist is destroyed by what
    > can only be described as a series of drunken faux pas. In the course of the
    > plot, he alienates everyone from the lowest and highest gangster to his
    > employer and his wife. Finally he alienates himself. In fact, the book is
    > really the story of a man who discovers, one fine day, that he hates his own
    > guts.
    > Most of you guys have probably already read this, I reckon. But for those
    > who haven't or who have been keping it in reserve as I did, I give it an
    > unqualified endorsement.
    > James
    > ------------------------------------
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