Fran Lebowitz is the author of two books of essays, Metropolitan Life and Social Studies, and a children’s book, Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas. She is currently at work on a novel entitled Exterior Signs of Wealth, and Progress, a book-length essay.
Butterfield 8by John O'Hara
A bestseller upon its publication in 1935, BUtterfield 8 was inspired by a news account of the discovery of the body of a beautiful young woman washed up on a Long Island beach. Was it an accident, a murder, a suicide? The circumstances of her death were never resolved, but O’Hara seized upon the tragedy to imagine the woman’s down-and-out life/i>
A bestseller upon its publication in 1935, BUtterfield 8 was inspired by a news account of the discovery of the body of a beautiful young woman washed up on a Long Island beach. Was it an accident, a murder, a suicide? The circumstances of her death were never resolved, but O’Hara seized upon the tragedy to imagine the woman’s down-and-out life in New York City in the early 1930s.
“O’Hara understood better than any other American writer how class can both reveal and shape character,” Fran Lebowitz writes in her Introduction. With brash honesty and a flair for the unconventional, BUtterfield 8 lays bare the unspoken and often shocking truths that lurked beneath the surface of a society still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. The result is a masterpiece of American fiction.
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The book started out a little slow, but still very vivid. O'Hara writes with great description and passion and was able to make the scenes very alive and full. However, for the first few chapters, the book felt rather disjointed to me and I felt a little disoriented and confused. There were a ton of characters dropped in and I wasn't yet sure who was important and who was peripheral. Looking back, I think the disorientation could be a deliberate stylistic choice. Our central characters are all caught up in a whirlwind of life's adventures filled with big hopes and dreams, but still just whipped around dizzyingly by real life interactions. Pushing through the first few chapters, I found myself getting really attached to the characters. This is really a character driven novel and the characters are deep and engaging. It was a while before I even knew the name of the girl I was following around for the first few pages and I wasn't sure yet if I was supposed to be sympathetic to or disgusted by her situation, but I still felt compelled by her and wanted to know more. As Gloria Wandrous grew more and more alive and as I learned more of her back story and current situation, she began to feel truly real and I found myself sympathizing for her. The characters are the life of the book. The plot itself felt a little thin. It was compelling only in the fact that I was attached to Gloria. The environment of New York and the speakeasies was meticulously created and felt very real and compelling. The dialog was fresh and real. The themes and content, while somewhat controversial and dated to the ~20s/30s, were still strikingly relevant in our modern society. The 21st century club scene is obviously a little different than that of the speakeasies. The stresses and concerns of modern day 20-somethings and white-collar-30+s have become more technologically advanced, but the general worries are still very similar. People want to be loved. They want to be accepted. They want to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world. They want to overcome the problems of their past and be able to take control of their future. This novel has a lot of great themes to think on and wonderful characters to help open up the realities hiding under the pasted on smiles of society. I would have liked to have seen some better resolution or morale at the end of the story, but it still left something to think about. Probably my biggest complaint was the "200 pound gorilla in the room" that's alluded to on the back cover by telling us that O'Hara was inspired to write this book when he read a news article about an unknown girl found dead in the East River. With that in mind, I knew what was coming and new the book couldn't end well. Still, I hoped for a little more enlightenment or for something more to come from the impending death. In that regard, the book left me somewhat disappointed...a bit of metafiction, placing me inside Gloria's own disappointment with the world. Overall, it was a book worth reading. I enjoyed the reality of it, the depth of the characters and the interesting themes. The pacing was a bit slow and disjointed, especially early on, and the plot itself felt a bit contrived at moments. Still, I am glad I read it and will likely seek out more O'Hara to put on my shelf.
Not the best book I have ever read and life is too short for me to recommend it for you to read. Overall though it was not a complete waste of time and it is not a lengthy book. The ending was a little disappointing, it left me thinking 'What the Heck!'