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Sermons and Soda-Water: 3 Volumes by O'Hara…
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Sermons and Soda-Water: 3 Volumes (edition 1960)

by O'Hara John

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1323161,780 (3.58)9
Member:americancornercta
Title:Sermons and Soda-Water: 3 Volumes
Authors:O'Hara John
Info:New York: Random House (1960), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
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Sermons and Soda-Water by John O'Hara

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Rating: 3.5* of five

"Imagine Kissing Pete" is a novella told to us, the slightly shell-shocked audience, by Jim Malloy. He's one of the Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, Lost Generation youths whose adulthoods commenced with the Great Depression of 1929-1938. It's not about him, not really anyway; it's about his way of life that morphed before it began properly, about the people who, like him, were still forming their identities when the whole world changed. The lens we see them through is Jim. He's a writer.

In fact, he's John O'Hara, part of him anyway, and Gibbsville stands for O'Hara's native Pennsylvania coal town. The people in Gibbsville, in this novella, are the people O'Hara knew and screwed. A lot of what made O'Hara's writing readable was the frankness of it, the unvarnished truths he told about hearts and minds. This novella's got the requisite amount of sex and drinking, though none of it is particularly meaty: No descriptions of Tab A into Slot B, no falling-down puking-up binges, but no shying away from the facts either. He was neither prudish nor prurient in writing about women and their sexual desire. That he knew women experienced sexual desire utterly unconnected to men and their desire impresses me as it isn't ordinary today. O'Hara was born in 1905. What a lot of time was wasted when men read his voluminous ouevre and took no hints from it as to what those female persons they cohabited with were thinking about.

Anyway. This novella. Jim elides a huge chunk of his own life in favor of telling us about Bobbie and Pete McCrea's disaster of a marriage. Bobbie, beautiful and spoiled, throws over her affianced yacht-owning fool of a boyfriend for marriage to their social set's least desirable, most weird outlier, Pete. Things don't go all that well as the Depression bites, money evaporates, and the two end up on the last street before the black folks while he and his Princeton degree run a pool hall. Bobbie has two kids, seems not to care a whole lot about them...claims to love them, once, to Jim when she's just been awful about them...Pete rapes a few girls, or tries ineptly to, I can't tell which; so the McCreas don't get invited to the parties their set gives anymore.

Jim's career as a writer has spooled up nicely, he offers Bobbie money for nothing (what's $200 to him? to her it's freedom), tells her to look him up when she comes to New York City, but never sees her. Or any of his other friends from Gibbsville, after the trip where he offers Bobbie the cash. They're stuffy small-town big shots. Reduced in circumstances for a while, they're back on the up as members of the upper middle class have always been able to do, and they go right back to being their insular, tedious selves.

Wartime floats the McCreas' boat a lot higher than the pool hall, but not up to their former lifestyle. They do what they've always done and, for a wonder, see it for what it is at last: Coping. They've each coped without the other, simply existing in the same space and apparently being tolerably good parents. Jim and his wife visit, Bobbie tells Jim everything, and I was genuinely and completely stunned when Bobbie's fortieth birthday present from her unloved, unlovable spouse was freedom...if she wanted to marry someone, if she fell in love with him and wanted to spend whatever was left to her with him, Pete would bow out quietly. He knows about Bobbie's other men, she knows about his other women, neither one was ever foolish enough to complain so long as lines weren't crossed. But Pete's been changing since the War lifted him back up. He knows Bobbie didn't marry him for love but out of spite for the boy she left. He didn't love her, either, but she was beautiful and sex is pretty amazing when you're first introduced to it. Now? They're not getting younger and Pete thinks Bobbie's a pretty nifty lady now that he's actually looked at her and listened to her.

Amazing. Just amazing. He's behaving somewhat decently?! What?!? He was a rapist...or maybe not, the actual crime isn't presented, but a serious perv and a man you didn't leave your womenfolk alone with. It's not much of a conversion experience, but it's something.

O'Hara's fiction was made into some films I liked (Ten North Frederick, BUtterfield 8) and a few I didn't, but there was no smallest doubt of why the filmmakers chose O'Hara's novels to adapt: The drama was there, the stories were well-crafted, and people loved the books. So why is Updike's wet, squooddgy Rabbit Angstrom still discussed and O'Hara's Gibbsville guys and dolls ignored? Because O'Hara was so much like his characters, I suppose; he wasn't a pleasant person. He left behind a mammoth body of work, he was clearly talented, he had no flaws not common to the men of his place and time. Give him a whirl. I doubt you'll like him less than Steinbeck or Hemingway. ( )
1 vote richardderus | Jul 11, 2019 |
Franklin Library, Pennsylvania, 1982. Hardcover (Full Leather). Book Condition: As New. Dust Jacket Condition: No Dust Jacket. First Edition. First edition of the work in this format and binding, and/or set or series. Size: Octavo (standard book size). Text body is clean, and free from previous owner annotation, underlining and highlighting. Binding is tight, covers and spine fully intact. All edges gilt - bright, rich condition. Embossed cloth, covers and spine, beautifully preserved. Quantity Available: 1. Shipped Weight: Under 1 kilogram. Category: Fiction Classic & Modern. ISBN: No ISBN. Green original publisher's leather binding; lettering in gilt on the spine; design in gilt on the front cover and on the spine; a.e.g.; five raised bands on the spine; green moire end papers; hinges, book and binding are as new; sewn-in ribbon marker; a beautiful copy.
  Czrbr | Jun 7, 2010 |
Franklin Library, Pennsylvania, 1982. Hardcover (Full Leather). Book Condition: As New. Dust Jacket Condition: No Dust Jacket. First Edition. First edition of the work in this format and binding, and/or set or series. Size: Octavo (standard book size). Text body is clean, and free from previous owner annotation, underlining and highlighting. Binding is tight, covers and spine fully intact. All edges gilt - bright, rich condition. Embossed cloth, covers and spine, beautifully preserved. Quantity Available: 1. Shipped Weight: Under 1 kilogram. Category: Fiction Classic & Modern. ISBN: No ISBN
All leather binding, title and decoration in gilt, five raised bands on spine, silk endpapers, silk ribbon. All edges gilt. As new condition
  Czrbr | Jun 7, 2010 |
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1. The girl on the baggage truck. - 2. Imaging kissing Pete. - 3. We're friends again.
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