(This post originally appeared on July 31, 2007.)
A lot of authors have used the old plot of having a group of strangers thrown together by circumstances and then seeing what happens among them. John O’Hara does it in a short novel from 1951 called THE FARMERS HOTEL. Set in a small town in Pennsylvania, the story finds a rich couple from Philadelphia who are married (but not to each other), a trio of small-time entertainers (a couple of strippers and their piano player), and a sullen truck driver who drinks too much all forced by a blizzard to stop at the hotel of the title, which, as it happens, has just reopened under new ownership. The middle-aged hotel owner, the cook, the black bellman/bartender (who has an adventurous history involving World War I and gangsters), and the local doctor are also on hand.
As usual with O’Hara, there’s lots of dialogue, most of it very well-written. The story gets darker as it goes on, and the ending is downright bleak. I gather from what I’ve read that this isn’t regarded as one of O’Hara’s better novels; in fact, some critics at the time called it his worst. I haven’t read enough of his work to make any judgments of that sort. But I can say that I enjoyed THE FARMERS HOTEL quite a bit, and it only makes me want to read more of O’Hara’s books.