Appointment in Samarra, by John O’Hara, describes in ambiguous detail the self-destruction of the central character Julian English over the course of a short three-day period. Although he seems to have it all as a wealthy car dealer and member of the social elite of his town, along with his wife Caroline, he acts impulsively during this time and damages his marriage, business, and reputation. The novel details his character, as described by others, and his newly reckless actions, which include getting drunk and throwing a drink in the face of his business investor, propositioning the girlfriend of a gangster, and getting into a fist fight with one of his oldest friends.
While the cause of his impulsiveness is never given, it seems to be driven by divine pre-destiny, as the epigraph to the novel is a W. Somerset Maugham retelling of an ancient Mesopotamian tale, whereby a merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace and the servant comes back pale and shaking, explaining that he met a woman he recognized as Death, who had gestured at him threateningly. He flees to Samarra to hide. The merchant then goes to the marketplace, finds Death, and asks her why she threatened the servant. She responds for the reader, “That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of a surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
While Julian’s actions put him on what he thinks is an irreversible course, the novel ends with others ready to forgive his sudden indiscretions.
Here are a few of my favorite descriptions, with Kindle locator number:
“Reilly told stories in paragraphs.” (loc 293)
“It is a pretty good hangover when you look at yourself in the mirror and can see nothing above the bridge of your nose.” (loc 473)
“But one thing he knew; if the Catholics had declared war on him, he was in a tough spot.” (loc 1364)
“But the trouble with making yourself feel better by thinking of bad things that other people have done is that you are the only one who is rounding up the stray bad things.” (1424)
“Did you come dashing forth to claim the first dance? Did you? No. You did not.” (loc 1491)
“Put together they made four years, the length of time she had passed at Bryn Mawr, and like the years of college in that they seemed so long a time and so short a time, but also not at all like the college years, because she felt she had got something out of college.” (loc 1586)
“If a buddy, meet a buddy, looking for the scotch.” (loc 2137)
“I’m just a girl who just feels like dying because the man I love has done me wrong.” (loc 2695)
“But she wasn’t bad-looking, and she had an interesting figure; not sensationally good, but you could have fun with it.” (loc 3257)
I give this one an
but you can’t be in the mood for a light-hearted, happy tale with this one.