AppointmentInSamarraAppointment in Samarra by John O'Hara takes place over a 72-hour period in the small eastern Pennsylvania town of Gibbsville.

But three days is all it takes for Julian English to destroy everything good in his life.

Julian had it made. He was born into a wealthy family; he owned a car dealer that was successful even during the great depression; and he had a beautiful, faithful wife, who loved him.

But he drank. And one night, at a party, he grew tired of listening to loudmouth boor Harry Reilly and threw a drink in his face.  Julian quickly regretted his actions. Harry was an influential man in Gibbsville and Julian owed him money; but rather than correct the situation, Julian hurtles down a path of self-destruction for the next 3 days, alienating himself from the rest of society, burning bridges in his life, and spiraling quickly downward until he reaches a breaking point.

Appointment is an excellent look at America of the 1930s. It shows us the social castes, the gossip, the overt racism, and life inside a bubble that is small town America.

O'Hara does a masterful job of building the characters of this town and the dynamics between them.  He gives us a backstory about Julian's wife, so we understand why he is lucky to have her and a fool to risk losing her. We learn about Julian's family and the pressure his father places on him, so we understand why he sometimes feels useless and helpless.

Interestingly, none of Julian's acts of self-destruction are described in the book. We hear about them later as characters discuss what happened. Sometimes, it's unclear exactly what Julian did. For example, his wife sees him leave a night club with the girlfriend of a local mobster; then later finds Julian passed out drunk in his car. Did he commit adultery? It probably doesn't matter, as that was clearly his intent. And he is now in trouble with both his wife and the mob.

This is a book that got better as it went along. As the story progresses, Julian's downfall seems inevitable. But I could not look away. Appointment in Samarra is an American tragedy that is well worth watching.