Matt Forney
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BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara

Most people have forgotten John O’Hara and this book by extension, one of his finest novels. If they do know BUtterfield 8, it’s only because of the movie based on it, and then only because Elizabeth Taylor won her first Oscar for her role in the film. O’Hara was an immensely talented novelist, referred to by Fran Lebowitz as “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald” for his uncompromising, unpretentious depictions of American life during the 1920’s and 30’s. His first novel, Appointment in Samarra, is a great read, but BUtterfield 8 is truly his masterpiece, an underrated classic of the American canon.

The novel revolves around the life of Gloria Stannard, a party slut-cum-call girl living a seedy life in Depression-era New York. The novel opens with an account of her death, inspired by a news story O’Hara had read several years prior. While it wouldn’t be hard to slip into a sentimental tone with this kind of subject matter, O’Hara deftly avoids this trap, cross-examining Gloria’s life with a frank and non-judgemental eye:

“—for a decent bathing cap. Jimmy, before we go, I want to tell you again, for the last time you’ve got to stop saying things like that to me. I’m not your mistress, and I’m not a girl off the streets, and I’m not accustomed to being talked to that way. It isn’t funny, and no one else talks that way to me. Do you talk that way to the women on newspapers? Even if you do I’m sure they don’t really like it all the time. You can’t admire my dress without going into details about my figure, and—”

“Why in the name of Christ should I? Isn’t the whole idea of the dress to show off your figure? Why does it look well on you? Because you have nice breasts and everything else. Now God damn it, why shouldn’t I say so?”

Click here to buy BUtterfield 8.

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