Review: A Family Party by John O’Hara #1956 Club


The Story

I do not know whether this is a very short novella or a slightly long short story, but a book of only 64 pages by an author as great as John O’Hara is a rare thing.  When Dr. Sam Merritt retires after a lifetime of dedicated service to the citizens of Lyons, Pennsylvania, his good friend, Al Shoemaker gives a “talk” instead of a speech to sum up his contribution to the community. At times mocking, at times, praising, often indiscreet, Shoemaker tells Merritt’s story in the way of a man spinning a yarn around a Franklin stove in an old-time country grocery store.

We learn of Merritt’s heroic actions after a railway accident, of his efforts to build a hospital to save local lives lost on mountain roads during the long trip to the nearest hospital. We also learn details of his private life–some of which the good doctor would wish had not been revealed. The final part of the monologue, which includes bestowing the towns retirement gift, has a bit of an “ouch” to it, if you ask me.

My Feelings

When this book arrived from some small town, Ohio, library, I nearly threw it back. The size was off-putting. What could this be? I’m so glad I didn’t. It is masterfully told. Toastmaster Shoemaker is so many parts friend, enemy, and innocent bystander that his monologue is hard to put down. O’Hara’s Pennsylvania stories always show the good and the bad of the local populace and this one is no exception. Although unusual and now apparently rare and hard-to-find, this story is well worth it if you can find it.

A Family Party by John O’Hara, author of Butterfield 8, From the Terrace, Ten North Frederick, Pal Joey and many others. Note the ridiculous price for the hardback generated by Amazon’s algorithm! Yet, used copes start at about $2.00. I enjoyed From the Terrace and Ten North Frederick in high school.