Saturday, 30 January 2016

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara


*Some Spoilers Below*

Appointment in Samarra is about the final destructive week of a rich young man in Prohibition-era America. Julian English is a bigshot in his town, part of the country club, a Cadillac dealer (I think Cadillac, but it's been a week since I finished the book, so I could be wrong.)  He has a beautiful wife he loves, even if he fucks around on her. He's respected in the business community.

Yet, he finds the society he lives in restrictive, and wants to be able to do whatever he wants...when whatever he wants is throwing his drink in the face of an irritating partygoer, for no greater crime that talking too much or too long. Hard to really sympathize, and harder when he then starts to double down on the belligerence.

O'Hara's writing about both the hypocrisies of society life, but also the ways in which they do smooth over some of the rough edges. As well as the ways the high life depends on the lowlife who delivers the illegal booze.

The self-destructive slide of the main character is well written, and the book is snarky about the mores of the town. It's had to sympathize with Julian, though. I mean, even after the first thing, he keeps digging his own damn hole, and if he just waited for a week or two, odds are this whole thing would blow right over and people would barely remember the time he threw a drink in someone's face.

It's funny, because this book might be an answer to people who are determined that online shaming is an entirely new thing, and for some aspects of that, I feel like time is also rarely considered - people will not remember every damn thing in a month. But more to the point, this book is about a guy who believes his actions will cause shaming in his community, costing him his wife, his job, his livelihood, and his membership in the club.

He's mostly right, but that's because he keeps doing the things that make that inevitable. Yet again, though, we see that our time period did not invent societal disapproval, any more than it invented sex or having lots of acquaintances who aren't really friends, but with whom you are friendly. Come on, guys, these things were around before - why are we surprised they transferred to the internet?

Julian's an idiot, and given that the second thing he does to sink himself is sleep with another woman while he's out on a date with his wife, in such a way that makes sure his wife will see what he's done.... He's hard to sympathize with.

Which is not the say that the book isn't worth a read. It's a quick one, and as a little glimpse into Prohibition era rich society outside of the big cities, it's well worth it. 

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