Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another one down

BUtterfield 8, John O’Hara (1935)

I feel about John O’Hara the way I feel abut Joan Didion. Every little bit of writing is exemplary. As in, if you want to write in a way that lets the reader’s intelligence work in your favor while offering honest and biting observations, you’d do well to emulate them. But on the whole, the aftertaste is a tad bitter.

Still, a very worthwhile gap-filler because the writing is very good and makes you feel smart for having caught on to the subtle insights, making you think they’re your own.

The “biographical note” to my edition quotes Lionel Trilling:

The work of no other writer tells us so precisely, and with such a sense of the importance of communication, how people look and how they want to look, where they buy their clothes and where they wish they could buy their clothes, how they speak and how they think they ought to speak.

I concur, though I can’t verify the “work of no other writer” bit.

I cite the “biographical note” (not the more entertaining “introduction” by Fran Lebowitz) because I feel it’s missing a potentially interesting tidbit, namely the news story that inspired the novel.* Meaning I’m too lazy to hunt it down my self but not too lazy to read it in the notes to a book I already have on hand.

Oh, well. With the Trilling quote on hand, here’s a quote from the book, picked more or less randomly (i.e., making sure the random element doesn’t give away any important details):

“You mean he’s peculiar?”

“Huh. Peculiar. Listen, darling, do you know why I like you? I do like you. Do you know why? You’re just a plain ordinary everyday man. You think you’re something pretty hot and sophisticated because you’re unfaithful to your wife. Well, I could tell you things about this rotten God damn dirty town that – ugh. I know a man that was almost elected— Well, I guess I better shut up. I know too much for my age. But I like you, Liggett, because you want me the way I want to be wanted, and not with fancy variations. Let’s get out of here, it’s too damn effete.”

Fwiw, the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor is quite good, though tamer than the book.

*If there are any college professors on hand, I’d recommend a syllabus of books inspired by news stories atop of which list would be Lord Jim, I think. – Feel free to add your trivia knowledge in the comments.