John O'Hara Short Fiction Analysis - Essay

John O’Hara

John O'Hara Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)


John O’Hara’s “Andrea” is a wintry story first published in the collection Waiting for Winter (1966). Andrea Cooper is the woman whose life is chronicled by Phil, the narrator, who met Andrea at a country club dance when she was sixteen and he was in the University of Pennsylvania law school. She is beautiful, truthful, and a little aggressive (in the fine old tradition of O’Hara women), and he “did not often hear Andrea use a line that was not her own.” During an interlude, they go out to his car. She wants to come to see him at his apartment in Philadelphia and make love to him. The dialogue that resolves this and moves the story on to all its other plateaus, indeed through its progressions from brightness to darkness and from eroticism to melodrama to tragedy, is vintage O’Hara. Over the decades, they become a couple, with Phil the responsible member. Their relationship lasts through Andrea’s marriages and through Phil’s rise in the legal profession. Andrea cannot stay married; Phil will not marry. Andrea is naïve about everything but sex; Phil is savvy, but perhaps not about sex. The temptation to make it neat by making him only an average lover is perhaps too overwhelming, but the implicit accusation is there in the way O’Hara presents his character.

At the end of the story, Phil goes back to Gibbsville, where they met, to try to head off expensive litigation in a complicated mineral rights case. Andrea’s father, an unscrupulous businessman who is ruining the store he manages so that the owners will sell to a chain that has made a deal with him, has also ruined her financial security. Phil also finds out that she has had another abortion, this one performed by the man she was going to marry, a doctor, to whom she had come about the pregnancy before that. Phil has made her pregnant. The night before the child was conceived, they had had an argument—superficially about her marriages but really an attempt on her part to get him to marry her—and she had thrown a heavy glass at him. It made him realize how old he was when he did not catch it; and he had been a “sensible” lover that night.

Now, on his visit to Gibbsville, she tries to pretend that she is in love with her homosexual business partner, and he soberly refuses to believe it and tells her she could have killed herself with the abortion and, for the first time in their long relationship, offers immediate marriage. She gets angry at him and he leaves, for the first time without their making love. He rationalizes her promiscuity by thinking to himself that “it was her nature to pass herself around among men and she would have done so whether I was in her background or not.” The problem is that Andrea is calling out for a stabilizing influence. He does not really know how to become one, although now an old bachelor set in his ways, and he continually, partly by design and partly because of unadmitted jealousy, knocks down in Andrea’s estimation the other men to whom she reaches out for stability.

Phil goes abroad and in Brussels avails himself of a tall blonde call girl and takes to heavy drinking. Four months pass and he has to go back to Gibbsville to try again to resolve the mineral rights case. He goes out to supper with the members of the local bar association and then reminisces with a few until midnight, returns to his hotel room, and falls asleep with the lights on. Andrea comes to see him at three o’clock in the morning. At first, she is annoyed; then he is impotent. They finally make love and, afterward, when they remember that they have been together for twenty years, Andrea says “Then it certainly isn’t love. Although it certainly is.” Then, after inviting him to her apartment for dinner that night, she opens the windows and tells him to get some sleep. Then their affair and Phil’s life as well as hers end:“Then she went to the other window and opened it, and I don’t know what happened next because I was not watching. But when I did look she was not there, and I did not believe that until I heard a most awful scream. Then I believed it and it is all I have left to believe.”

“You Can Always Tell Newark”

“You Can Always Tell Newark” also belongs to the post-1961, book-publication-only group of short stories. The story begins with two middle-aged men watching a singles match between two young men; the outcome of both the plots run concurrently in the story, through the help of exposition which seems to be (but is not) flashback. One of the handsome young men keeps making sotto voce comments to Nance, an attractive, pregnant young woman watching them. Williams, one of the older men, offers her a seat up on the row where the spectators’ backs are supported by the wall. She refuses, a little huffily. Williams and Smith, who is Williams’s foil in their little expository scene,...

(The entire section is 2008 words.)