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A Way of Life, Like Any Other

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  797 ratings  ·  96 reviews
The hero of Darcy O'Brien's A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a child of Hollywood, and once his life was a glittery dream. His father starred in Westerns. His mother was a goddess of the silver screen. The family enjoyed the high life on their estate, Casa Fiesta. But his parents' careers have crashed since then, and their marriage has broken up too.

Lovesick and sex-crazed
Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 31st 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1977)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Jan 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but the glaringly tacky cover of this one (atypical of nyrb-classics) should be viewed as a warning sign.

There were things that might only annoy me, like a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars (the latter wearing Bermuda Shorts) played at Wrigley Field (why would two L.A. teams play in Chicago?) where people stand in the outfield (no ivy-covered wall).* I believe there would be universal reading opprobrium, however, w
Eddie Watkins
Mar 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
Deceptively light and breezy memoir-charged novel of a teenage boy and his broken dysfunctional Hollywood family - mother a sex fiend, father a fat washed up star - its dry humor delivered by darting serpentine sentences evading a largely unspoken (though felt) emotional gravity. Set in the 50's (I think), but written in the 70's, it lulls you with a period propriety only to shed its gentlemanly nature to land a devastatingly funny "cock" or "fuck".

Bought this 11 years ago when in LA. Read this
Disappointed to be let down by this one; it sounded so up my alley. Another reviewer here has astutely observed that "the pleasure is all in the voice," but unfortunately, as the narrative progressed I found the narrative voice less and less a source of pleasure and more and more of, well, active annoyance.

To be sure, O'Brien's wryly detached viewpoint combined with his clean, crystalline prose style makes for several extremely arresting opening chapters, and the staidness of his perspective in
Katie Long
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that I just don’t care.
Mar 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: la-la-land

When you think about it, there was never any good reason to expect that the two or three golden generations of the original Hollywood empire should have been at all cultivated, poised, sensible or even polite. They were the living definition of a "ragtag bunch" that succeeded, alongside a unimaginably explosive new medium, often on the vaudvillian talents of looking good, cracking wise, and having the nerve to try.

So it's not too surprising to know that quite often the practitioners -- whether a
Apr 27, 2012 rated it liked it
The pleasure is all in the voice. This unshockable, worldly-wise Hollywood teen, with his droll perceptions about his once-successful parents and their rich, hi-gloss friends, is so well-drawn that he bears comparison with Holden Caulfield - and that's the highest praise I can think of. For me, though, the performance is marred by just TOO much ennui creeping in at the middle, and a jarring note of real bitterness at the end. If Salinger is Cote D'Or Burgundy, this is a $100 bottle of California ...more
Ed Ward
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow. 150 pages of dynamite. I indulged a long-held desire last year and ordered a
bunch of "collections" from NYRB Books, and one was the Hollywood
collection because I wanted to read Eve Babitz' book. This was in
that bundle, and since I'd never heard of it, I never really looked
at it. Bad mistake.

It's essentially a twisted bildungsroman about the son of two faded
Hollywood stars growing into teenhood as his mother and father --
divorced, of course -- hit the skids. O'Brien's parents were George
Oct 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book should be taught in a creative writing course entitled Comic Irony 101. Bravura scenes of Old Hollywood in decline, and a tenderness and sympathy that's missing from a lot of celebrity kid memoirs. Vicious in its own way, too, especially in how it gives its characters enough narrative rope to hang themselves. It's the voice that will get you here, a detached decadence that seems like pure California, minor domestic horrors colored with humorous LA sunshine. Seriously, if you're sufferi ...more
Oct 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Since I live in Los Angeles, I am fond of tales about Hollywood life - especially from the 20's through the 60's - and this novel (or is it really a memoir?) is about a child being raised by a Hollywood couple during the golden era of Hollywood. It covers the high and low and is a remarkable book. ...more
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
An amusing tale of growing up in a family that's at once sordid and absurd, with the added bonus that it takes place in an atmosphere of Hollywood hokum. ...more
Adam Dalva
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fun, quick, weird little thing. I would say it basically equates to: (Ask The Dust + Day of the Locusts)/Ulysses. That is to say, it's punchy and the tableau is totally juicy mid-Century Californiana, but there is the occasional Joycean flare. A couple of memorable scenes and a pleasantly off-kilter protagonist help it along. It will stick with you a bit, I bet.

Nov 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: big-white-square
Good fun, but I I'm not sure that I really understood his father. I was OK until the end ... would he really have stolen that ring? Or is the point that the son has become someone more like his hideous, selfish mother? ...more
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I first laid eyes on "A Way of Life, Like Any Other", by Darcy O'Brien, the book was in the fifth position of a “five Hollywood lives” list compiled by author Susanna Moore for the Wall Street Journal. I was surprised to see only two familiar titles on said list in a nonfiction genre that I’m as familiar with as the back of my hand. Well! I would have to see just what this was about. Turns out, the semi-fictionalized memoir of O’Brien’s Hollywood adolescence is just a treat from first page ...more
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sad and funny. I hope the author, Darcy O'Brien did not base his book, A Way Of Life, Like Any Other! On his own life. The narrator is the adolescent son of two faded film stars, self-absorbed and self-centered, far more interested in their own lives and emotional states to care for their son. They use him when convenient and otherwise forget about him. For his part, the son takes care of them better than they do of him and patches together a life for himself. This description, however, does not ...more
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
O'Brien can craft a sentence well, and is able to strike a (for lack of a better term) readable tone, but I was left cold. He seems to want to make judgments, but refuses, and in the end this inability to find sense or grace, forgiveness or purposeful anger results in a striking tone of self-absorbed bitterness. Certainly that's a valid reaction to have to the delusional characters around him, but I persist in a (possibly outdated) belief that we don't read novels to just have a timeline of even ...more
Jan 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
The adolescent boy who narrates the book witnesses the absurdities of his parents (Hollywood has-beens) and their friends. He describes the modulations in his attitude towards their bizarre behavior with an almost clinical detachment, charting his moments of tolerance, disrespect, humor and love, refusing to place judgment on his own behavior just as in the end he refuses to censure the heroic irresponsibility of his mother and the unthinking narrowness of his father. At times, the way he hides ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
A book club read, the buzz on this book was that it was hilarious. I did not find this to be the case. Nor did I find the dysfunctional aspects of this family very interesting. I would not recommend.
Daniel Polansky
The son of an ex-Western star and a mercilessly selfish dilettante grows up too quickly, learns to hate his parents. A very funny depiction of neglect. One of my new favorite books about my adopted homeland.
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this book, but decided it was not something that I was interested in.
Sue Corbett
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Not funny as claimed - sad really and crammed with unbelievable characters but being in hollywood probably par for the course - an autobiography that persuaded me I'd had a good life! ...more
Gary Reger
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Called only by the nickname his father bestowed, Salty, the protagonist of "A Way of Life, Like Any Other" by Darcy O'Brien takes us through his teenage years as the only child of a Hollywood couple whose acme has long passed. His father was a major star of westerns, directed by John Ford in some, his mother, now decrepit, alcoholic, and completely self-involved, had been a darling of the screen. But the big house where Salty'd spent his childhood has been sold; his parents divorced -- but not i ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Another worthwhile title in my beloved NYRB Classics series. Childhood memoirs aren't my cup of tea, highly fictionalized ones even less so. In reality, O'Brien wasn't an only child. His father wasn't quite as mendacious as he appears in the book (if his wikipedia entry is accurate, he did complete a project for the Ministry of Defense, for instance). After her film career was over, Darcy's mother, Marguerite Churchill, moved to Italy and then Portugal, not Spain, and far from dying in Europe wh ...more
Jun 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
This is quite a bizarre little book. I don't actually believe that most of what is presented here is plausible. Sure, I can believe in extremely dysfunctional families (although the idea that every family this narrator encounters throughout his childhood is dysfunctional to the degree presented is pretty darned cynical), but I don't believe that many of the experiences the boy claims to have had could have happened. Example: I don't believe a 15-year-old could check into an expensive hotel witho ...more
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
I tend to go down rabbit holes and read about Darcy O’Brien in The Big Goodbye, the book about the film Chinatown. O'Brien was a peripheral character. Considering the crazy quilt of characters described in that book I was curious to read his semi-autobiographical ditty. It’s short, a quick, easy, amusing read. Considering that is actually based on his life makes the book quite funny.

I found it wittier than some of the reviews describe. Growing up in Hollywood sounds as wacky as one would hope.
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
It’s difficult to separate fiction from possible auto-biography in this coming of age novel by Darcy O’Brien, himself the son of two has-been movie stars. The voice of the unnamed narrator (called “Salty” by his father) is nothing less than perfect as he navigates his teenage life between his two divorced parents. Both are hopeless and hapless, demonstrating some pretty evident narcissistic behaviors. Yet, despite financial hard times and very little positive attention, their son manages to view ...more
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've finished reading A Way of Life, Like Any Other by, Darcy O'Brien. What a story! The parents were the epitome of Hollywood hosers. However, I completely immersed myself in the book. Plainly put, some people are not deserving of being parents. Despite the mad world the young narrators parents chose to occupy, he never gave in to being a censorious critic or harbored resentment. This book was a testimony to the unconditional love that flows through the soul of a child, even when the parents ar ...more
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This was an interesting read. It is considered to be fiction but the author's parents were both movie stars so I am certain there are some autobiographical passages. Both parents are highly dyfuctional and their soon is not much better. If the son was a more moving character, I would care a lot more about what happened to him. However, I found him more obnoxious and self-centered than the needy parents. There are some wonderfully observed sections about Hollywood life so I recommend this book fo ...more
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another winner in the NYRB Classics series. I bought it because it was recommended by Seamus Heaney. I enjoyed it because it had a distinctive voice--wry, bitter, rueful. Not much to the story, really, but the narrator himself is worth spending time with. I also can't think of a better novel I've read about Hollywood. ...more
Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it
As a novel, this was very good.

I got pretty mad at myself for.reading it. 1950s Hollywood is so tired. I’ve had so much of it in my life. The whole dominant culture thing is so cliched. Bored, bored, bored.

But nothing could take away from the fact that this was a good novel, with a(n) (uh) novel take on McCarthyism.
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
An absolute laugh riot.
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NYRB Classics: A Way of Life, Like Any Other, by Darcy O'Brien 2 8 Oct 30, 2013 10:17PM  

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Darcy O'Brien was born in Los Angeles, the son of Hollywood silent film actor George O’Brien and actress Marguerite Churchill.

O'Brien attended Princeton University and University of Cambridge, and received a master's degree and doctorate from the University of California, Berkely. From 1965 to 1978 he was a professor of English at Pomona College. In 1978 he moved to Tulsa, and taught at the Unives

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