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.