Friday, February 26, 2016

FFB: John O'Hara -- The Doctor's Son

When I was a much younger man, I thought John O'Hara was a great American writer.  You can read more about that right here, in my comments ten years ago on The Cape Cod Lighter.  When I got to college, I learned that O'Hara wasn't considered great.  He wasn't even considered very good.  That didn't bother me.  I wasn't fickle.  I still thought he was great, and now that I'm a lot older, I still think so, even though he's been pretty much written out of the history of American literature.  So when I ran across my copy of The Doctor's Son, I decided I'd read it all again.  

The book is a collection of pieces that aren't short stories.  Well, the title piece is.  The rest are a miscellaneous assortment of things, character sketches, vignettes, monologues, dialogues, and maybe other stuff.  "Frankie" comes close to being a story, and so does "Mr. Cass and the Ten Thousand Dollars."  So do a couple of the others, but they don't quite make it for me.  "Master of Ceremonies" is the monologue of an MC.   

"The Doctor's Son" opens the collection and is by far the longest piece.  It's a 27-page coming-of-age store about a doctor's son in the Pennsylvania coal country during the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.  O'Hara, as it happens, was a doctor's son in the Pennsylvania coal country at that time, so I suspect it's a tad autobiographical.  The other pieces in the collection average about 2-1/2 or 3 pages long, I think.  One of them, "The Hotel Kid," even reminded me a little bit of Salinger.

The stories appeared in places like The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Scribner's Magazine, and The Brooklyn Eagle.  The characters are distinctive, the dialogue is excellent, and the details are closely observed, but I wonder if any of these pieces could be published today, even in The New Yorker.  If you're read any of the stories, let me know what you think.  


10 comments:

Deb said...

I know I've posted this before, but I think John O'Hara and John P. Marquand were the two writers who best described the early-and-mid-twentieth-century experience. Marquand from the WASP/old money point of view and O'Hara from the second-generation Irish/Italian immigrants'. It's such a shame neither is read anymore. In a 50-year span, O'Hara published more than 200 short stories in The New Yorker and he is largely responsible for what we now consider "the New Yorker short story". Ah well, as you noted the other day, sic transit gloria mundi.

George said...

I read a lot of John O'Hara over the years. As Deb points out, O'Hara and Marquand chronicled the Middle Class in America before the decline of the Economy. O'Hara happened to be admired by George V. Higgins, too.

Walker Martin said...

Both John O'Hara and John P. Marquand are favorites of mine. That's not to say they don't have faults. For instance I like O'Hara's novellas and short novels better than his long novels. With Marquand I like his literary novels alot more than his Mr Moto work. I've reread both writers over the years and enjoyed second readings.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Of course I've read them all. The only one I remember is "The Doctor's Son." Take that as a comment like your own.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Looks like I am in good company. I too am a fan of O’Hara and Marquand.

Deb said...

It was a long time after I'd read books like SINCERELY, WILLIS WADE and WOMEN AND THOMAS HARROW that I discovered John P. Marquand had also written the Mr. Moto books.

Todd Mason said...

MR. MOTO IS SO VERY DISTRESSED BY THE PROPERTY TAXES was a late entry in the series, with Marquand crossing his streams.

Cap'n Bob said...

How come every time you write in a title there's a blank space? Or is it just on my computer?

Bill Crider said...

Your browser isn't picking up the italics, or something like that. Deb was saying that authors' names didn't show up in one of the articles I linked to, but they show up on my computer. I use the Chrome browser, and sometimes whole posts on other blogs don't show up, except for one or two words.

Mathew Paust said...

Haven't read O'Hara in ages, but Ten North Frederick made a deep and lasting impression on me.