Gore Vidal was not a boring person. He had affairs with Anias Nin and Jack Kerouac. He ran for public office twice and lost. He coined the term “crypto-Nazi”. He was on the second season of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. He was a complex writer and after reading his novel Julian, I thought it time to talk about the 5 books I’ve read by him.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Julian. It is a historical novel about Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus, who reigned from 360 to 363 A.C., a short one for sure. The book starts off as a series of letters between two professors, Libanius and Priscus, who was one of Julian’s confidants. Libanius wants to write and publish a biography of Julian, who was the last Roman Emperor to try to reinstate the Greek Gods, despite Christianity becoming the dominant religion in the Empire. Libanius wants to persuade the current Emperor, Theodosius to allow religious freedom, despite ordaining that Christianity is now the only religion. Most of the book is basically Julian’s memoirs with asides by Libanius and Priscus. Julian is a brilliant look at the last Emperor to try to reinstate the Greek Gods, written with Vidal’s usual wit.
The City and The Pillar, published in 1948, is a seminal piece of gay fiction. It’s the story of Jim Willard, a handsome tennis player. On a camping trip in senior year with his friend Bob Ford, they wind up having sex and the rest of the novel deals with Jim’s obsession with Bob as well as the different affairs Jim has with other men. Vidal never sensationalized gay life, making it seem normal. I read the revised version, which was published in 1965 and changed the ending to make it less brutal. If you are interested in gay literature, you should read this book.
My favorite book by him is definitely his historical novel Burr, published in 1973. I hoped that people’s interest in Alexander Hamilton might get people to read about Hamilton’s nemesis Aaron Burr. Vidal chose a fascinating person to write about. The book is never boring and has one of the best endings I’ve ever read. I was so amazed at the ending I must have read it over a couple of times.
If you like the outrageous, you might love Myra Breckenridge. Vidal originally was going to submit to for part of the play O, Calcutta, but he changed his mind. Movie obsessed Myra Breckenridge gets a job at The Academy of Aspiring Actors and Actresses that is run by her late husband Myron’s Uncle Buck. The book does have an unfortunate rape scene of a young actor named Randy Godowsky by Myra. It was meant to be funny, but it isn’t. I still think the book is worth reading for it’s take on sexuality, gender, and Hollywood. It’s also very funny. The movie, with Raquel Welch is a mess. Rex Reed gives one of the worst performances I’ve seen. The idea that he would transition into Raquel Welch is mind boggling.
My least favorite novel by Vidal that I’ve read is 1876, published in 1976. It’s about the 1876 presidential race where Samuel K Tilden, who won the popular vote lost to Rutherford B. Hayes, who won the electoral college. Sound familiar? The book was dull and had none of the flair of Burr.
Have you ever read any of Gore Vidal’s work? What’s your opinion? Let me know your thoughts.