Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Darcy O'Brien

A Way of Life, Like Any Other

Darcy O’Brien

New York Review of Books 1977, 2001

I learned of this book from a British newspaper, in a list of forgotten books that deserved to be rediscovered. I chose it from the list almost by chance. How lucky I feel now, like someone traveling in a foreign city who meets an old friend by chance.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a picaresque tale of Hollywood in the fifties, hilarious and scathing. A novel, almost a memoir. The protagonist (like Darcy O’Brien himself) is the child of two Hollywood stars in decline.

At first glance you might mistake the book for one of those happy/sad accounts of famous parents that turn up now and then in The New Yorker magazine. But this novel is much funnier and sadder and not nearly so harmless. Darcy O’Brien is willing to be angrier than almost anyone will admit to being nowadays. His account of his mother’s defeat by a Christmas Pudding is very funny and very sad, but most of all it is furious.

Demolishing several lives in 155 pages, this is a novel in a delicious hurry, racking up conquests and disasters at a careening speed that seems both fun and generous, like a brilliant friend who buys your drinks all night and says, “Brace yourself. I’m going to tell you everything.”

How this book has avoided becoming a famous movie is a total mystery. The closest thing to a moral comes on page 105: “No child aspires to repeat the tragedy of his parents but must avert the compulsion to do so.”

A Way of Life, Like Any Other on sale at the New York Review of Books site.

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