Gore Vidal (1925-2012) was born at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His first novel, Williwaw, written when he was 19 years old and serving in the army, appeared in the spring of 1946. He wrote 23 novels, five plays, many screenplays, short stories, well over 200 essays, and a memoir.
In the sixth of Vidal's historic novels about Aaron Burr and his descendants, the author has come a long way from Burr , the first in the series, both in time span--the focus here is on the years between 1917 and 1924--and quality. His imagination seems to flag as he draws closer to the present, and he delivers a surprisingly dry recitation of the facts and circumstances of history. Each of the novels in Vidal's U.S. saga has become more extravagantly peopled with historical personages. Presidents Harding, Wilson and Coolidge, and Hollywood stars Fairbanks, Chaplin and Mabel Norman make major appearances here. His fictional protagonists--Caroline Sanford and Burden Day, also the main characters of Empire --seem on hand merely to be injected at just the right moment to catch an intimate glimpse of the rich and famous. There is no dramatic tension in Hollywood , although there are regular flashes of Vidal's wit, in particular a scene in a steambath with Fairbanks and Chaplin waxing grandiloquent on the nature of movies. The details of the Teapot Dome scandal, the shadow presidency of Mrs. Wilson during her husband's incapacitation, and the difficulty of dealing with Harding's mistress are recounted with none of Vidal's usual relish. Although his writing continues to be clear and elegant, in Hollywood , he has failed to produce a compelling story. First serial to Washingtonian; BOMC featured alternate. (Feb.)
" Wicked and provocative. . . . Vidal's purview of Hollywood in one
of its golden ages is fascinating."
" Vidal succeeds in making his history alive and plausible."
--The New York Times " Vidal's originality derives from his as-
surance that he can create and command the American history of his novels, as much as he can their imaginary components. No other American writer I know of has Vidal's sense of national proprietorship. He summons the entire American scene into his confident voice. Vidal's presump-
tions work marvelously well for his
The New York Review of Books Also available from the Modern Library:
Burr, Lincoln, 1876,
Empire, Washington, D.C.