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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal 
3rd-Feb-2006 03:21 pm
I'm still working on these two lists. Bolded titles I've already read; asterisked titles I'm aware of and interested in. Not that anyone cares. (--;

Vidal, Gore. The City and the Pillar. 1965. New York: Vintage, 2003.
Summary: Jim Williard shares one idyllic weekend with Bob Ford at an abandoned slave cabin, and, as he makes his way through life, becoming involved with the sea, an actor, a writer, and the army as well as becoming ever better-acquainted with the homosexual subculture of circa-WWII America, Bob remains his ideal. But, when they finally do meet again, Bob, married, isn't interested, and Jim rapes him. In the end, Jim decides not to dwell on the past anymore.
Comments: I'd never read any of Gore Vidal's work before, but his name is of course well-known to me, and I was surprised to note how undistinguished the writing style is. Purely functional, unadorned, unremarkable prose. But then, he is a bestselling writer; perhaps I shouldn't have been so shocked. Still, it's amazing how, even sixty years later, the story remains so very fresh. (About the only way it dates is through its careful dodging of any actual descriptions of sex.) Jim's fears of being outed, his yearning for social acceptance, the conflict between easy sex and love/monogamy, the semi-antagonism between different aspects of gay subculture--all of these issues still appear in novels today. Moreover, because the larger world doesn't frequently intrude upon the insular and often privileged lives of the characters, there's a timelessness to the story that it would not have if it were steeped more deeply in the popular culture and history of the 30's and 40's. I wish I knew what exactly Vidal changed between the 1948 and 1965 editions--the progressiveness of the writing is far more 60's-ish in tone. I didn't find any of the characters, gay or straight, to be particularly sympathetic, but at least they weren't unreal.
Notes: trade paperback, 1st printing
Rating: 6.5/10 - A quick, easy read that's well-worth checking out for its historical/literary significance.
4th-Feb-2006 01:17 am (UTC)
That's one of his very earliest books, and his later ones differ in various ways. There's a certain commonality to his narrative voice in a lot of his books, but the subject matter differs widely and therefore his narrative structure and tone differs according to the subject. I think the best of his historical novels that is Julian, a biography of the last non-Christian Roman Emperor; that one probably comes across as the most "serious" and "profound" and "impressive" of all his books. But some of his others that are more purely fiction achieve something entirely different, and arguably more "entertaining." His novel Myra Breckinridge is my favorite of his non-historical novels, and it's pretty amusing and silly in its own right, but then there are also some he's written that are even more smusing and silly than that one is, such as Live from Golgotha.

Really, I can't recommend highly enough that you just read a whole bunch more by him. He's an amazing writer and you can't get an at all complete picture of his literary output without reading quite a few different books by him.
4th-Feb-2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
I wasn't objecting to the subject matter--I'm objecting to the quality of the writing itself. It reminded me, and I hate to say this, of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. "Fascinating" ideas advanced by a heavy-handed, uninspired prose style. In any case, the ideas make for important historical footnotes and comments on/reflections of the times, but the writing itself seems intended for the lowest common denominator.

Anyway, I also purchased Myra Breckinridge with my store credit (the book is out of print but it was still on the shelves), so I'll see if I think his prose skills improve with age.
4th-Feb-2006 04:16 pm (UTC)
I think you should also read Julian, because that's the one that seems to come across as most "impressive."
28th-Feb-2006 02:10 pm (UTC)
Review archived.
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