Summary

Appointment in Samarra begins the morning of Christmas Eve as Lute Fliegler and his wife, Irma, lie in bed at their home in Gibbsville, Pennsylvania. Lute is a car dealer who works for Julian English, the main character of the novel. Later that day, the town’s most prominent members attend a dance at the Lantenengo Country Club. Irishman Harry Reilly likes getting attention by telling stories to the crowd. Julian watches him with contempt and fantasizes about throwing his drink at Harry’s face. The band is playing, and people are dancing. Suddenly the word goes out that Julian threw his highball at Harry’s face.

The next morning, Julian wakes up with a hangover and remembers the events of the night before. Julian’s wife, Caroline, gives him the news that everyone in town already knows about the incident at the party. Harry is wealthy and powerful, and having him as an enemy is bad news for Julian’s business. Julian asks if Harry has ever meant anything to her. Caroline denies it and reminds Julian of the insults he used against her the night before on the way home from the party. Julian wonders if his dad knows about the incident.

Al Grecco works for Ed Charney, the local bootlegger. Prior to meeting Ed, Al Grecco was involved in other criminal activities and was in and out of jail. On Christmas afternoon, Ed calls Al Grecco at the Apollo restaurant, where Al is having lunch. Ed’s son broke his arm, so Ed is going to stay home with him and his wife. He wants Al to spend the evening at the Stage Coach, a local club for the second-tier society of Gibbsville, keeping an eye on Helene Holman. Helene is Ed’s mistress and a torch singer at the club. Ed wants to make sure she doesn’t offer herself to other men.

Julian and Caroline go to Julian’s parents’ house for dinner. Doctor William English comes from one of Gibbsville’s oldest families. William’s father committed suicide after getting caught in a bank fraud, and William fears that his son, Julian, inherited his grandfather’s immoral tendencies. Julian notes that his father doesn’t seem to know what happened the night before at the Country Club. Though tense, the visit progresses uneventfully, and the young couple leaves on a good note. On the way home, Caroline asks Julian to stop by Harry’s house and apologize. He agrees on the...

(The entire section is 1092 words.)

Overview

Julian English is thirty years old, a congenial seller of cars and popular with the country club set. He has the right connections with Ed Charney, the local bootlegger, and consequently is always well supplied with liquor. He and Caroline have been married four years. Both natives of Gibbsville, they have an assured social position and no children.

Just before Christmas, they go to a party at the country club. As usual, Julian has too much to drink. He sits idly twirling his highball and listening to Harry Reilly’s stories. Harry is a rich Irish Catholic and definitely a social climber. Julian dislikes Harry, although Harry loaned him twenty thousand dollars the previous summer to bolster his Cadillac agency. That loan does not give Harry the right to make passes at Caroline, Julian thinks darkly. Harry tells stories in paragraphs. He always pauses at the right time. Julian keeps thinking how fitting it would be if he stopped the stories by throwing his drink in Harry’s face. Julian grows bored. On impulse he does throw his drink in Harry’s face. A big lump of ice hits Harry in the eye.

On the way home, Julian and Caroline quarrel furiously. Julian accuses his wife of infidelity with Harry, among others. Caroline says that Julian always drinks too much and chases women as well. More important, Harry has a mortgage on the car agency and a good deal of influence with the Catholics, and he is a man who can hold a grudge.

Al Grecco is a little man who, as Ed Charney’s handyman, has a certain standing in the town. He likes Julian because Julian is the only one of the social set who is really friendly. Al grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Before he was finally sentenced to a year in prison, he was arrested several times. When he got out, he worked in a poolroom for a while until his boss died. The widow wanted Al to stay on as manager, but he went to work for Charney. Now he delivers bootleg booze, runs errands, and keeps an eye on Helene Holman, the torch singer at the Stage Coach, a country inn owned by Charney. Helene is Charney’s girl, but Charney knows that if she is not carefully watched, she might, out of sheer good-heartedness, extend her favors to other men.

On Christmas Day, Julian wakes up with a hangover. As is his custom, he quarrels with the cook. At Caroline’s suggestion, he goes to Harry’s house to apologize. Although Harry’s sister is sympathetic, she brings down word that Harry will not see him; he has a black eye and is still perturbed.

Julian’s father and mother come for Christmas dinner. The father, a staid, successful surgeon, is always looking for evidence of moral weakness in Julian, for his own father committed suicide after embezzling a fortune. He is afraid that the English inheritance is stained. Dinner is a trying occasion.

Caroline and Julian have supper at the club. The usual crowd is there. Julian...

(The entire section is 1180 words.)

Synopsis

Appointment in Samarra was O’Hara’s first published novel. For a 1953 Modern Library edition of the book, O’Hara wrote a foreword recounting how he had composed it. He wrote it over the period from September, 1933, to March, 1934, in a small hotel room in New York City. He worked five nights a week—he had developed a preference for nighttime writing during his early years in newspaper work. After completing the first twenty-five thousand words, O’Hara submitted the manuscript to Harcourt, Brace & Company. Alfred Harcourt was impressed with what he read and subsequently gave the young author a subsidy of fifty dollars a week until the novel was finished.

O’Hara credits Dorothy Parker with giving him,...

(The entire section is 1102 words.)