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 condition that Caroline wait in bed for his return. Harry’s sister tells Julian that her brother doesn’t want to see him. He has a black eye from a piece of ice that hit him when Julian threw the drink. Back home, Julian and Caroline make passionate love.
Later that evening, on the way to another party at the Country Club, Julian and Caroline discuss their plans to start a family. Caroline complains about men who have affairs and women who condone their behavior. She makes Julian promise he will not get drunk that night. She offers to come out to the car with him during the dance intermission, as they used to do before they got married. The usual crowd is hanging out at the club, and Julian is ridiculed and ostracized. He keeps to himself and drinks while he waits for the opportunity to talk to Monsignor Creedon. Julian hopes the monsignor will help him repair his relationship with Harry, who is a Catholic. Contrary to what Julian expected, Father Creedon doesn’t think Julian’s action was overly reproachable. When Caroline learns about their conversation, she disapproves of Julian’s choice to speak to Father Creedon, and the couple argues. Caroline is no longer sure she will keep their date at intermission. Julian returns to the locker room to continue drinking.
At the Stage Coach, Lute and Irma Fliegler, along with others in their lower-class circle, dance and gossip. Al keeps tabs on Helene, who is wearing a provocative dress and doesn’t want to be ordered around. Julian sits with Al and Helene. He starts making passes at Helene despite Al’s allusion to her relationship with Ed Charney. Following a few dances, Julian...
(The entire section is 4,685 words.)