Ourselves to Know Is Full of Surprises

Novelists usually use technique of a narrator who got the story from somebody else when the veracity of the story is in doubt. In Ourselves to Know, John O’Hara turns turns that conceit inside out.

As a child growing up in Lyons, Pa., Gerald Higgins knows Robert Millhouser by sight. He ferrets out the story that Millhouser shot and killed his wife in 1908. Gerald doesn’t understand why his grandfather and parents respect Millhouser despite the murder.

When Gerald is grown, Millhouser him to write the story, with the stipulation that Gerald not publish it for 20 years.

Within this complicated framework, O’Hara presents a riveting story of complex people in a deceptively innocent-appearing era.

Although sex in all its permutations is part of that complexity—in fact, is behind the murder—O’Hara’s focus is on personal change.

No one in this novel is static. People make choices. Choices change people.

In the hands of a lesser writer, Ourselves to Know could have become either a trashy novel or a boring, literary one. O’Hara manages to present a novel worth reading and makes the reading enjoyable.

What’s more,  despite the fact that the identity of the murder is known almost from the beginning, O’Hara pulls off a surprise ending.

Ourselves to Know
by John O’Hara
Random House, 1960
408 pages
1960 bestseller # 5
My grade: A-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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