John O’Hara can transform a drab plot about unremarkable characters into an unexpected and unsettling exploration of human behavior. In Elizabeth Appleton, O’Hara is in peak form.
Elizabeth Appleton is an attractive woman who passes for intelligent, but she has no intellectual interests or aspirations. She’s married to a college professor who likes being a college professor. Elizabeth would like him to be a college president.
John and Elizabeth have been getting along fine for nine years, but she’s beginning to feel their sex life is boring. The celebrities that she’d like to meet don’t show up on the lecture circuit in their small Pennsylvania college town.
From an unlikely cast of academics and small-town businesspeople, O’Hara creates a world in which sexual stereotypes twist like reflections in a carnival mirror. Yet O’Hara does it with a respect for his characters that keeps the story from being sordid or smutty.
O’Hara’s writing is smooth, deceptively easy to read. But he demands readers work with him, imagining the scenes, deciphering how the characters speak their lines.
Those who aren’t willing to put in the effort O’Hara demands may wonder why Elizabeth Appleton was a bestseller. Active readers will know.Elizabeth Appleton by John O’Hara Random House, 1963 310 pages 1963 bestseller # 5 My grade A-