Darcy O'Brien Essay - Critical Essays

O'Brien, Darcy


O'Brien, Darcy 1939–

O'Brien is an American critic and novelist. A Way of Life, Like Any Other is his first novel. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

Anthony Thwaite

'A Way of Life, Like Any Other' is broadly in the line of 'The Catcher in the Rye': American teenager (in the 1950s here) negotiating parents, other adults, girls, with moods shifting from wonder to indifference, from hot innocence to blasé cynicism. Like Salinger, Darcy O'Brien does this with a humour which doesn't preclude seriousness; unlike Salinger, he stands back and looks at the boy from an unjudging but amused distance.

The success of the book, though, lies not so much in the boy, Salty, but in the portrayal of his parents: father a pathetic remnant of a once-famous Hollywood cowboy star, mother a self-dramatising hysteric, who would be a monster if it weren't for her extravagant ludicrousness.

Mr O'Brien's language is elegantly facetious, distancing through dandifying. Occasionally the references passed me by…. But this is a confident, entertaining, funny first novel, with a stylishness that could lead to something more. (p. 29)

Anthony Thwaite, in The London Observer (reprinted by permission of The Observer Limited), August 21, 1977.

John Lahr

Darcy O'Brien's first novel [A Way of Life, Like Any Other] … is a story of growing up in Hollywood among the famous and the faded. As his title implies, Mr O'Brien treats the fools and the fatuity of Hollywood in a matter of fact, throwaway manner. The result is to turn a potential feast into a famine….

Each chapter is a set-piece of self-deception played out against legendary locales which Mr O'Brien conspicuously refrains from describing.

Only the daffy affluence of Beverly Hills comes alive….

The narrator is supposed to grow up in the course of the novel which ends with him at eighteen about to go to college. But the narrative tone is uneven, breaking the fictional convention by jumping ahead of the character in sophistication and losing the dramatic irony. The twelve-year-old narrator, observing his mother's face puffed from drink, describes it as "reticulated with frantic capillaries". Still, the book is an honourable enough first effort….

John Lahr, "High Living," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), October 21, 1977, p. 1249.

["A Way of Life, Like Any Other" is an] eccentric, cynical, and sometimes exceedingly funny first novel about the coming of age of the son of two aging, divorced Hollywood has-beens…. The story … conveys a great deal of feeling beneath a deceptively deadpan surface. The book has its oddities—such as a bewildering scene in which the boy and his father pay a long afternoon visit to the director John Ford, and a tendency to snatch the reader away from the characters just when they seem most interesting—but it is certainly the most literate "Hollywood novel" to have appeared in years. (p. 110)

The New Yorker (© 1978 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), February 6, 1978.

Nora Johnson

["A Way of Life, Like Any Other"] probably isn't any worse than anywhere else, though the scenery along the way is more surrealistic….

Mr. O'Brien can be very funny, deft and fast and Perelman-like…. The first half of the book is farcical, but the tone changes somewhat unsettlingly to something more serious when Salty [the narrator] goes to live with his father. The primal tale of the son pulling away from the mother to identify with the father is not comedy's arena, and the old fraud of a father is drawn with sympathy….

But when mother turns up again to start another new life, Salty insults her …; and when a boiling plum pudding explodes in her face … one gets the feeling that Mr. O'Brien blew it up on purpose. Though this mother is right out of Arthur Kopit or Bruce Jay Friedman, previously we have been made to laugh at her awfulness, her daffy Auntie Mame chatter; now Mr. O'Brien's anger boils over where it doesn't belong….

Atmosphere is evoked by the appearance of some real personalities—Frank Sinatra and John Ford (that obligatory tenant of film folklore)—and both are uncharacteristically pleasant…. In spite of a certain lack of dramatic pull, "A Way of Life, Like Any Other" is a funny and interesting book.

Nora Johnson, "Live from Hollywood," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 9, 1978, p. 14.