Appointment in Samarra

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set during the Christmas holidays of 1930 in and around the fictitious town of Gibbsville--probably O’Hara’s hometown of Pottsville-- Pennsylvania (also the locus of many subsequent O’Hara fictions), the novel portrays the rapid decline and fall of thirty-year-old Julian English, a Cadillac dealer hitherto regarded as one of the rising bright lights in Gibbsville society. In less than a week’s time, Julian English discovers that his world has shrunk to such a degree that he can no longer live in it; as befits his occupation, he will leave the world from the driver’s seat of his demonstrator Cadillac, sipping whiskey as the motor runs inside the closed garage.

Ostensibly, Julian’s swift decline begins when, more than a little drunk and unable to restrain himself, he throws a drink in the face of Harry Reilly at a country-club party. Reilly is of Irish descent, and ethnic tensions are never far from the surface; still, the two men appear relatively free of prejudice with regard to each other, suggesting that the real reasons for Julian’s downfall lie somewhat deeper.

With analytical skills that range freely between the social and the psychological, O’Hara flashes back and forth through Julian’s brief life, concluding with the portrait of a man who has never seemed to “know his place,” whatever that may be. To be sure, Julian’s own grandfather died a suicide, yet even that fact seems of minor importance as Julian rushes headlong into the creation of his own personal tragedy. Almost willfully, he proceeds from the Reilly...

(The entire section is 639 words.)