Sermons and Soda-Water by John O'Hara

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Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Central to Sermons and Soda-Water is a concern for the fleeting nature of time. In his foreword to the collection, O'Hara refers to his own aging and to his sense of urgency about his own work: "I want to get it all down on paper while I can. ... at fifty-five I have no right to waste time." What O'Hara wants to "get down on paper" is the story, from his perspective, of the decades between 1920 and 1950, which he was not willing to leave "in the hands of the historians and the editors of picture books." For the characters in these three novellas, time is an almost tangible quantity: youth is too short; life is measured by marriages, births, and funerals; the past is more vivid than the present. As always, O'Hara is also concerned here with the difficulty of forming and maintaining honest, warm relationships. People at all social levels marry for the wrong reasons, are unfaithful to their spouses, and seek meaning in money and alcohol. These two themes — the rapid passing of time, and human loneliness — are closely related in O'Hara's presentation of a period of rapid social change in American life.