Darcy O'Brien Nora Johnson - Essay

Nora Johnson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["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.