The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Let me preface by saying that John O'Hara is one of my favorite authors. It is currently quite fashionable, in literary circles, to deride his work; we of the LitCrit circle apparently prefer stories that make absolutely no sense, a la Faulkner. Keep in mind, if you will, that As I Lay Dying contains a chapter that is comprised of one sentence: "My Mother is a fish." Evidently, in order to be meaningful, one must also be obtuse. Or, we champion the "raw, manly prose" of Hemingway, which is all effectively one simple subject/verb sentence after another--to paraphrase, "I got drunk. Bret got drunk. We drank red wine. The red wine was good." Ah, see, what skill he had! And so, O'Hara is out of fashion. Even in his own day, he wasn't loved by the LitCrits; Hemingway himself--he of those masterful monosyllabic sentences--had little use for his work. As an fan of short stories, I'm particularly fond of O'Hara's. He excelled in characterization; while Hemingway's endless parade of sad drunks were simply fictional sad drunks, O'Hara created sad drunks--and quite a few non-sad, non-drunk characters as well--who remind me of people I know. I believe this makes them what is popularly known as "accessible" characters; to me, they are good characters, because they could very well be real people. I ascribe to the idea that fiction should be believable; in order for me to invest myself in a story, I should be able to immerse myself in it as though it were reality. The reality of the story should become my own reality for the time that I spend reading it. Faulkner's crumbling aristocrats and dirty white trash characters, while based upon the sort of people that I know all too well, have no grounding in reality; they're caricatures. I can't accept them as any form of reality, even for the duration of my reading. It is thus with a heavy heart that I have lately finished one of O'Hara's last novels, Lovey Childs: A Philadelphian's Story. The book simply did not live up to the O'Hara that I have loved for years. Throughout his writing career, O'Hara was known for pulling few punches. He felt free to bring sexual tension into play when few others would, and issues of wealth (or lack of it) and social class are constant themes throughout his work. These come into play in Lovey Childs as well, but perhaps a bit too much so. There is fairly little development of the titular character and nominal protagonist. The reader learns not-very-much about Lovey; for the first half of the novel, her mother is the more developed character. At that, much of the mother's development revolves around her sexuality and a Lesbian affair with one of Lovey's boarding-school classmates. When finally Lovey takes center stage, her own characterization doesn't go much beyond one failed marriage, the murder of an acquaintance, and a one-nighter with a Catholic priest. Even one of O'Hara's familiar themes, that of social class, is toned down to the point of near-irrelevance. Lovey's family is set up as a standard-issue Proper Philadelphia one, but other than providing a point of reference, O'Hara did little with this. In his other work, the milieu of Old Philadelphia stands out and becomes a character in its own right. Here, it's effectively window-dressing; the novel could just as easily have been set in Akron. All in all, Lovey Childs isn't a bad read. Yet, I can't help but wonder if, at the tail end of his life (the novel was published in 1969; O'Hara died in 1970) the author perhaps had resorted to just grinding out another novel simply because that was what he was supposed to do.


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