« 1957 | 1955 »


Ten North Frederick

by John O’Hara

Original Publisher: Random House
Current Publisher: Out of Print

Harold Augenbraum writes:

I have several friends who have been urging me to read John O’Hara for years. I kept picking up Appointment at Samarra, which everyone said was his best, and never reading it. The late, lamented, great bibliophile and scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli asked me to develop a John O’Hara centennial program in 2005 but I couldn’t at the time. Then there’s that off-putting story in Brendan Gill’s Here at the New Yorker when Gill gives one of O’Hara’s books a bad review and O’Hara refuses to speak to him for a year, even though they pass one another in the New Yorker’s hallways almost daily. There’s too much Butterfield 8 in the air with Elizabeth Taylor’s cleavage, etc., and unless you talk to people who have actually read O’Hara, he seems too pot-boiler-y to bother with. Until you read something of his.

So this is the first John O’Hara novel I have read, and I can’t wait to read more, and I can’t wait to get ahold of his short stories and take them slowly, one-by-one, as my friend, writer Terry Quinn, has been haranguing for years. Ten North Frederick is, without a doubt, a brilliant book. The cover of my mass market paperback claims that it has sold two million copies. And now it’s out of print. And it’s not available in the circulating collection of The New York Public Library. I had to buy it used from AbeBooks.com (which, for the sake of full disclosure, is a partner of the National Book Foundation’s The Best of the National Book Awards Fiction campaign). Yes, you can’t put it down, despite a bit of “who cares about the problems of the white upper middle class in mid-century America” attitude on my part. Ten North Frederick is a place, the house in which the protagonist family lives. It’s solidly built, burgher-ish, firm. For most of the book, Ten North Frederick becomes even more solid. Then it happens. A chink is discovered. The main character overreaches, and is slapped down. He falls down his own staircase, he sleeps with his daughter’s roommate. And you discover that Ten North Frederick is a house of cards. But the brilliance of the book is not just the unfolding of the story but the unfolding of the style. For as the characters’ collective life falls apart, so does the narrative, as it is meant to do. It has to. Ten North Frederick has nowhere to go, and Ten North Frederick has nowhere to go. The structure and the story are so intertwined that the book has to end, which it does, as if the structure of life and metaphor are the same, as if the plot of a life and a story about a life are the same. As I write this, I have just finished reading all 77 of the National Book Award Fiction Winners. Now I’m going to read more John O’Hara.

Harold Augenbraum is Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, an editor and translator.


Fiction Finalists that Year:

  • Paul Bowles for The Spider's House
  • Shirley Ann Grau for The Black Prince
  • MacKinlay Kantor for Andersonville
  • Flannery O'Connor for A Good Man is Hard to Find
  • May Sarton for Faithful Are the Wounds
  • Robert Penn Warren for Band of Angels
  • Eudora Welty for The Bride of the Innisfallen
  • Herman Wouk for Marjorie Morningstar

Fiction Judges that Year: Carlos Baker, John Brooks, Granville Hicks, Saunders Redding, Mark Schorer

The Year in Literature:

  • Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Juan Ramón Jiménez won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information: Ten North Frederick was made into a film in 1958 starring Gary Cooper as Joe Chapin.

Suggested Links:

Buy the Book:

  • This title is out of print. It may be available through AbeBooks.com and used-book sellers, or at your local library.

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  • Response
    I haven’t always agreed with the National Book Award choices (not that they check in with me) and I’m finding that even 50+ years ago, I would have disagreed, but today I found a book I’m going to hunt down in a used bookstore. John O’Hara won the award in 1956 ...

Reader Comments (3)

Didn't Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find win the NBA award for fiction in 1956? According to your very organization, that's what happened:


So where did John O'Hara come from?

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

John O'Hara was the Winner of the National Book Award in 1956. Flannery O'Connor was a Finalist.

The information at nbaclassics_foconnor.html is a misprint and I've fixed it. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I apologize for any confusion. The page has been relocated to http://www.nationalbook.org/nbaclassics_foconnor.html

Former NBF Executive Director Neil Baldwin wrote the NBA Classics series primarily about Winners of the Award, however, the decision was made to focus on Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories" because "Ten North Frederick" was and still is out of print.

All the best,
Meredith @ The NBF

That's a great cover.

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKC
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