Monday, 5 December 2016

Appointment in Linebrook with John O'Hara


The other biography of John O’Hara that I’m reading is by Finis Farr which was published just 3 years after the death of its subject. Just from the first chapter I can say that it is better written that the MacShane production which seems to be a quickly run off item. The Farr book hews more closely to the life reflected in the stories, the log of his life, as it were. Was O’Hara an alcoholic? Yes I would say but not a ‘fucking alcoholic’ who is someone that you don’t like who drinks as much as you do yourself. For a good account of the wreck alcohol has wrought amongst American writers read The Thirsty Muse byThomas Dardis. Some of O’Hara’s pals are there featured but he gets a billing in the also starring.

Subverting the normal arc of a life, Finis Farr begins at O’Hara’s last day on earth which was much like many of the others since he had given up ‘the drink’ 17 years previously and took to writing big novels interspersed with short story collections in the years between. Appointment in Linebrook (his house) was pencilled with the minor stroke that admonisheth firmed up by the stroke that felleth.

The description of the study where he wrote through the night on his Remington Noiseless is so complete that Farr must have been there.

Professional care had assembled the reference books around the writing hutch, and the number of dictionaries alone would surprise anyone except another writer. In a commanding position stood the 2,515-page Oxford Universal Dictionary, concise in comparison to its thirteen-volume parent, the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, which O'Hara did not own. But he had an unabridged Webster, and thirty other dictionaries in various languages. Macmillan's Everyman's Encyclopedia supported the two Britannicas, and a dozen histories of Pennsylvania showed O'Hara's interest in his home state

There are innumerable memorabilia and photos, silver boxes and ash trays but other than reference books and editions and translations of his own work there is no literature. He seems not to have read much but assiduously kept up with things by taking 5 newspapers a day. He yearned to be admitted to the club of the great writers but his novels of the rich and dissolute lacked spiritual scale. He thought himself due the Nobel Prize. Reading the requirements for its awarding:
Among the five prizes provided for in Alfred Nobel's will (1895), one was intended for the person who, in the literary field, had produced "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"
It is clear that the Nordic bluenoses would not consider his writing to represent an ideal direction. Any more than Joyce did.

He intended to buy a Rolls with the money if he won the Nobel. He bought one anyway:

O'Hara liked to use his money for the pleasure it would bring him and his family. He had always wanted a Rolls Royce and had promised himself that if he won the Nobel Prize he would buy one with the proceeds. But when it seemed unlikely that he would win it, he decided to buy the car anyhow. He went to New York to inspect the Rolls showroom and then, with feigned casualness, he ordered what he wanted by phone. It was a four-door Silver Cloud III, painted dark green. He asked that his initials be painted on the door and sent in his check for $17,300. Most of his rich friends had Bentleys, which is the same car as the Rolls except for the Rolls's distinctive radiator grille. But O'Hara decided he could not afford this kind of inverse snobbery. "None of your shy, thumb-sucking Bentley radiators for me," he wrote. "I got that broad in her nightgown on my radiator and them two R's, which don't mean rock 'n' roll. Maybe I ought to start going to the Friday concerts again. Who dat? Man, dat Johnny O'Hara, from Pottsville, writes like a son of a bitch, he do."
(from The Life of John O’Hara by Frank MacShane pub.1980.)

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