Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

O'Hara's Letters, Part I

I've read the first 100 pages of Selected Letters of John O'Hara and have arrived at 1935 and the publication of his first novel, Appointment in Samarra, a novel that many still believe is the best he ever wrote (it is quite good).  Many of the early letters are to a friend from his Pottsville days, Robert Simonds, to whom young O'Hara writes frankly about sex (he likes it), booze (he likes it), jobs (he doesn't like them: indulging heavily in the two former "likes" results in repeated firings--from newspapers, PR firms, magazines).

What's astonishing to me is that this young man--who did not graduate from high school, who never took a college course, who drank himself blind night after night, who could not hold a job--had taught himself, principally through his voracious reading, how to write.  From the very beginning, he had enormous confidence in himself, and after getting fired from some local newspapers, headed to New York City, where he talked his way onto the staffs of the New York Herald Tribune, Life, and Time (not all at once), was fired from all of them, yet ended up at the New Yorker, where he would one day become their most prolific contributor.  He became friends almost immediately with Dorothy Parker (who encouraged him repeatedly) and others; he was corresponding with F. Scott Fitzgerald (whose work O'Hara adored--he called Tender Is the Night "one of the great books of the world" and thought Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms "the greatest love story ever written") (90, 92).  He became close friends with New Yorker staffer Wolcott Gibbs and in honor of his friend renamed his hometown of Pottsville "Gibbsville" in some of his greatest fiction.

He also wrote frequent, encouraging letters to his younger brother Thomas, who also wanted a writing career.  (And ended up a journalist.)

The O'Hara that emerges in these early letters (he was about 30 when I quit for the day) is a far more generous, self-effacing, and, well, honest person than the older O'Hara (I'll write about this later).

Something to end with: His father, a physician, died quickly of Bright's Disease in 1925 (when O'Hara was 20).  John rushed home to be with him--and afterwards wrote this to his friend Simonds: "On Monday he recognized me for the last time."  And at the very end, "He opened his mouth as though to say something and then his head fell" (13).

Oh my ...

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