March 25, 2005
MarkBernstein.org
 

Pal Joey

Pal Joey
John O'Hara

(order)

(March 25, 2005)

O'Hara was an important writer -- important enough that everyone told stories about what an immensely annoying, obnoxious man he was. I'd never read him, nor seen the hit musical that was based on these early New Yorker letters from an unsuccessful nightclub singer to his thriving colleague.

These are clever, affected, engaging stories. Like our pal Joey, they very much want to be liked. Like Joey, they always suspect they aren't well liked -- not well enough liked, at least, for us to lend him some cash if he ever really needs it.

These feel like Damon Runyan without that weird, fantastic grotesquerie that Runyon holds in reserve so he can really astonish us when he needs to. Joey's nightclub world is real and realistic; there are plenty of guys (some of them wise guys) and lots of good-looking mouses, but it's a world of walk-ups and coffee shops without the gangsters who are more than somewhat well-spoken.