Appointment in Samarra tells the story of the downfall of Julian English over the course of three short days during Christmas in 1930. Julian seems to have it all – he lives on the right street, owns a Cadillac dealership, is a member of the country club, has a beautiful wife, the right kind of friends – when he throws it all away by making a series of ridiculously awful choices (don’t throw a drink in the face of the guy who you owe $20k, don’t sleep with the mob boss’s mistress, don’t beat up a one-armed war veteran…) which cause his life to come crashing down around him, resulting in his ultimate destruction.
Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara is number 22 on Modern Library’s top 100 list of the best English speaking novels written in the 20th century. Personally, I don’t understand why. In spite of complete chapters that are dedicated to the background of secondary and even tertiary characters there is no explanation for Julian’s actions – was he always such a self-centered jerk? If so, then why do I care if his life is falling apart? If not, then what the heck happened to turn him into one?! The story takes place in a small town in Pennsylvania in the middle of prohibition and the depression, but you wouldn’t know it, everyone is hanging out at the country club and getting drunk and acting like idiots. Perhaps that shows a truer picture of society during that time as “new money” was coming into play and “old money” was going away, and I know that it stretched the limits for how sex was addressed in novels at that time, but I honestly found it all a little repetitive, adolescent, and boring. Oh well, at least I tried…
Title: Appointment in Samarra
Author: John O’Hara
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Publication: Originally published in 1934