Charles McGrath on John O’Hara

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Image courtesy of Library of America

Charles McGrath has been, at various times, editor of the New York Times Book Review and deputy editor at the New Yorker. More recently, he’s edited the Library of America’s edition of John O’Hara’s short fiction. McGrath is a fitting choice, given how many of O’Hara’s stories the New Yorker published, albeit before his tenure there, unless I’m mistaken. For one reason or another, O’Hara hasn’t yet enjoyed the renewed interest John Cheever did. Then again, unless I’m mistaken, the Cheever renaissance tracked pretty closely with LOA reissues of his novels, and a biography by Blake Bailey, which is always an event. Geoffrey Woolf already wrote a good biography of O’Hara, The Art of Burning Bridges, way back in 2003. McGrath called the booksatisfying and pleasingly unconventional, and one that O’Hara would probably have hated.” There’s also a mid-’70s bio by Matthew J. Bruccoli, and while I can’t vouch for it firsthand, Bruccoli did so much exemplary work on F. Scott Fitzgerald that it’s unlikely to be a complete dud. 

Now we’ve got an interview with McGrath on the LOA site in which he calls O’Hara, “an important American writer who has been unjustly neglected.” He does acknowledge that the writer was his own worst enemy in some regards, saying of O’Hara, “his public persona was prickly and blustery, even a little obnoxious at times. He made it easy to dislike him.” Indeed, James Salter has noted that, “His publisher referred to him as the master of the perceived slight.” So, will this be a rebirth for the writer McGrath calls, “a crucial figure in the development of the American short story, with links to Hemingway and Fitzgerald, on the one hand, and on the other, to a generation of writers he influenced: Salinger, Updike, Cheever, Raymond Carver”? If nothing else, that characterization should get a few readers interested. What they find once they look closer won’t disappoint them.

– John McIntyre

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