Critical Context

Although lacking the compact terseness of his first novel, Appointment in Samarra (1934), From the Terrace is quite probably the finest novel of O’Hara’s middle years, showing much of the energy and acuity that would thereafter be diverted toward the short story, of which he wrote dozens during the last decade of his life.

Published in the fall of 1958, From the Terrace fell squarely into a highly receptive market, prepared by such of O’Hara’s competitors as Marquand (Sincerely, Willis Wayde, 1955; Women and Thomas Harrow, 1958), James Gould Cozzens (By Love Possessed, 1957), and Louis Auchincloss (The Great World and Timothy Colt, 1956; Venus in Sparta, 1958). To his credit, O’Hara managed to present in the person of Alfred Eaton a character considerably more sympathetic than Marquand’s Willis Wayde or Auchincloss’s Michael Farish, the protagonist of Venus in Sparta. Farish, a well-derived banker foredoomed to suicide, bears many superficial resemblances to Alfred Eaton; he does not, however, succeed in eliciting the reader’s curiosity as does Alfred Eaton. From the Terrace thus emerges as perhaps the finest “business” novel of the 1950’s, as well as one of the last. After the death of Marquand in 1960, O’Hara would turn increasingly toward the small-town Pennsylvania background of his boyhood, with Ourselves to Know (1960) and The Lockwood Concern (1965); as a chronicler of Pennsylvania, he would soon face formidable competition in the person of John Updike, author of such volumes as Rabbit, Run (1960) and The Centaur (1963). Auchincloss, meanwhile, would move away from the contemporary business scene, returning to the earlier years of the century with The House of Five Talents (1960), The Rector of Justin (1964), and The Embezzler (1966).