Appointment in Samarra

by John O'Hara

My favorite part of Appointment in Samarra is the passage from Somerset Maugham reprinted in the front matter revealing the inspiration for the novel's title. I don't want to spoil it because it's as good as any episode of The Twilight Zone. So either pick up your own copy of Appointment in Samarra, read the source material (Maugham's final drama, Sheppey), read the source of the source material: an Arabic fable, or just Google it.

My second favorite part is that, within this book on the list, there's a reference to a different book on the list. And you all know I love this. Main character Julian English muses on the use of the word "fine" in A Farewell to Arms—much as Classic Bitch did in her review of it!

My third 'favorite' part is that here is a book that stays with grief. John O'Hara also hangs in there and continues to tightly narrate the immediate aftermath of a death, which would otherwise be the most natural of ending points. He does so believably, and he does so for a while. This read unusual enough to me to leave me remarking on it here.

Beyond that I certainly don't dislike this book, but I believe insofar as it made the list at all that it should appear much lower down. It's a little gray is all. It's got an interesting enough plot, pretty well developed characters, a sense of voice; there's nothing wrong with it. But that's the least of what could be said about the vast majority of books on this list, so I'm really not sure why we come to Appointment in Samarra at #22.

The book concerns relationships, whether or not our assessment of people liking us is accurate, and whether or not different people have varying assessments of that. There's nice juxtaposition of characters' inner lives with how they present themselves to the world. It reminded me a bit of Walker Percy's The Moviegoer—a book I liked less than this one—in that it concerns a guy in a kind of fugue state and headed for a fall. The plot takes you on the journey you expect to be taken on given the characters as you've come to know them. While the focus of the narration switches a handful of times, it stays tightest on Julian English and is convincing writing. Perhaps that's why it's ranked as high as it is... But top 25? No way. Let me just say that Classic Bitch expects great things from here on out moving up the list, but this one is just kind of 'meh'; forgettable.