JOHN O’HARA’S HOLLYWOOD

Readers might find this less compelling as fiction than as a glimpse into what Hollywood was “really” like.

This uneven collection focuses on issues of status and morality (or lack thereof) during the heyday of the studio star system.

One of the most popular and prolific writers of his era, O’Hara wrote novels that were adapted into movies (Pal Joey, 1957; Butterfield 8, 1960, etc.) and cashed some paychecks as a screenwriter, but he never devoted a novel to Hollywood. Yet his experiences there provided plenty of inspiration for his fiction, as this posthumous collection of 22 stories attests. Spanning 36 years, the anthology proceeds chronologically, starting with early 1930s pieces for the New Yorker that are barely stories at all, mainly vignettes or conversations of a couple pages or slightly more. In the 1960s, O’Hara progressed to longer pieces that are more engaging and compelling. Though editor Bruccoli in his introduction describes these—“Natica Jackson” and “James Francis and the Star” among them—as “primarily character stories,” O’Hara’s characters typically lack the depth and complexity of individuals and are more like stereotypes. He’s most concerned with actresses who are past their prime (or, occasionally on the verge), who invariably owe their success to accidents of looks and luck rather than to anything approaching talent. In 1969’s “The Sun Room,” a proudly notorious former star speaks for many in this collection when she says she’d like to teach an acting course where one week she’d “lecture on bust development” and the next “demonstrate the technique of the casting couch.” Writers in these stories are intellectually superior to actors, though not always morally so. Hollywood husbands are predominantly gay, even possibly the one in “In a Grove” who marries a hooker and offers her to an acquaintance for $100. Dialogue is O’Hara’s strength, though some of it dates these stories.

Readers might find this less compelling as fiction than as a glimpse into what Hollywood was “really” like.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-7867-1872-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2006

Categories:

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

Categories:

SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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