Friday, January 18, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Farmer's Hotel - John O'Hara


(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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read the play version of this one (same title). I'd recommend the huge Gibbsville, Pa. collection of O'Hara's short stories, which contains much of his best work.


Jeff M.

Walker Martin said...

I like John O'Hara alot and I second Jeff's recommendation of the big Gibbsville, PA. collection. I consider his first novel, APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA(1934) to be one of his best but actually I think his novellas and some of his short fiction to be better than such long novels as TEN NORTH FREDERICK and FROM THE TERRACE.

James Reasoner said...

GIBBSVILLE, PA. is on the shelf right behind the chair where I work, so I see it every day and have been thinking lately that I need to break into it. I have trouble reading huge collections like that, but I could break it up and read a story or two between novels until I'm done with it. Might take me a while, but that would get it read. I may even start today . . .

I read APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA when I was in college and loved it. Ought to reread it one of these days.

George said...

I worked my way through GIBBSVILLE, PA. by reading a story per day. I'm a big John O'Hara fan. He's an underrated writer. I prefer his short stories to his novels.

old guy rambling said...

The title is not really a jump out and grab you one. I have read some of O'Hara, long ago, like his stuff.

-N-

pattinase (abbott) said...

I thought I had read pretty much all of O'Hara but do not remember even hearing this title before.

James Reasoner said...

As I recall, THE FARMER'S HOTEL is a pretty short book, longer than a novella but not by much. That's probably why I read it, since I'm fond of short novels as both a reader and a writer.