Rarely does a writer debut with such a grace and so close to the perfect as happened to John O’Hara and his “Appointment in Samarra”. Many authors are dazzled with the possibilities and open many doors that they are not able to either enter or close. O’Hara is different. He is assured of what he wants of his characters and his prose, therefore his writing reads like an experienced writer who leaves readers breathless.
“Appointment in Samarra” begins with an epigraph from Somerset Maugham. And the narrative follows Julian English, a WASP who is atop the social leader in Gibbsville, PA. At a Christmas party he throws a drink in the face of an important Catholic businessman and this is just the beginning of his downward spiral.
While Mr English is going down, another characters are going up. It is very interesting the parallels the writer traces in his narrative showing how one’s decadence is another’s ascendance. Luther Fliegler’s life is the counterpoint to English’s.
O’Hara’s dialogue have an important part in his prose. His words are sharp and not a single one is useless. The use of colloquial language only enhances that. His characters’ lines are complemented by detailed descriptions that favor to create the whole scene.
Many compare O’Hara to other writers from the same period like Fitzgerald, it turns out that O’Hara is not that famous- what is a shame. Because, like Fran Leibowitz said, he is “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.” O’Hara’s prose has much more depth and less romantic characters that Fitzgerald. Moreover he reads more smoothly and he talks more candid about issues like decadence and sex. In Fitzgerald’s world the prose is dreamy. Nothing seems to be very real. On the other hand, O’Hara is very down-to-earth.
“Appointment in Samarra” is a book that is very likely to please readers who like complex narratives written with an assured hand. The Vintage edition brings a very helpful introduction written by John Updike, that in the end illuminate many points.