Friday, March 08, 2013


Sermons and Soda Water, John O'Hara, Random House, 1960, 328 pp

O'Hara hit the 1960 bestseller list twice. This collection of three novellas was #10 and was originally released as a boxed set of three volumes. (I found the three volumes at my local library without the box.) I liked these novellas better than any of his novels so far. He curbed his wordiness and made excellent use of his skill with dialogue. They each went down like eating ice cream.

Some male friends from O'Hara's usual haunt of Gibbsville, PA, turn up in each novella so you get a picture of their lives as young people growing older and wiser. The period covers the stock market crash of the 1930s and the years beyond.

The first thing I read by O'Hara was his debut, Hellbox, a short story collection. He had written most of them for The New Yorker and had the sound of a hot new writer on the make. Again it was his snappy dialogue that impressed me. I think he was at his best when he was not taking himself so seriously.

In Sermons and Soda Water, you really get the feel of the 1920s wildness being drowned in the troubles of the Depression and can see what life was like for the middle class in those days. I realized that while his female characters are drawn in ways annoying to me now, they are portraits of how women were then due to how men perceived them.

(Sermons and Soda Water is out of print. Try your local library or used booksellers.)

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