File Size: 53936 KB
Print Length: 480 pages
Publisher: Anchor (October 13, 2015)
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
In case you read just for the personal anecdote that precedes each chapter, a sort of extended " my meal with Gore/Jay', it would be enough to be worth your time and energy
If you read it only to revel in the eloquence and finesse of The author Parini's marvelous prose (regardless of topic) it would be enough to be worth your time
If you read it only to obtain a wonderful (and fair, despite Parini's evident affection for the man) portrait of one of Many greatest (and severely under-rated) talents: A fantastic essayist; superb playwright; outstanding genre writer (see his early SF and Mystery novels); damaging satirist; and (easily) most fascinating historical novelist; it would be enough to be worth your time
To have this all in one supreme work?
Is actually worth your time
Believe in me, Some interesting people sometimes do not live interesting lives. I've already been through many of these biographies from time to time, but that is unquestionably not the case of Gore Vidal. He has been around, traveled the world, met really fascinating people and was a great writer during his time. His textbooks were quite influential to my generation, especially the historical novels and the essays, which I still read with pleasure nowadays. His great fear, of being a writer that would endure, looks very real today. He was a good writer, smart and cultivated, but his textbooks lack emotion, the inner angst at a great writer. Looking in retrospection, his great and disliked rival, Truman Capote, was a whole different tale. Maybe not that smart, but he wasn't scared of throwing himself totally in his books. Yet this biography is unquestionably worth reading. Parini was obviously a good friend who shared many instances (some quite amusing) with Gore. He treats him with respect and the admiration he should get. A good introduction to newcomers to Gore's work as well being an interesting book also for the fans., Because of his historical novels (which I reread every few years), Gore Vidal occupies my pantheon of American writers.
Professor Parini's biography has rounded out my understanding of Vidal and his estimable work, and caused me next to read Vidal's collection of essays, United States.
If you're a fan of literary journal, I urge you to pair Empire of Personal with Professor Parini's 1 Matchless Time.
I've read all the Faulkner journal and insist without qualification that One Matchless Time is the best.
I know the reason why, too, after reading Sartre's literary journal.
It will take a novelist to understand one., Very good portrait of Gore Vidal... warts and all! Gives home how difficult he was, how self-absorbed, but also how intelligent and diverse in his interests. A convincing read!, Parini has written a remarkable biography about this brilliant, iconoclastic and productive writer who got held a unique position in American letters and society for half century. What a life he or she lived! And what a great life history!, This specific is a very biography, especially for individuals who cherished the imperious Gore., The particular pleasure of reading Gore Vidal, even about Gore Vidal, is his company. This biography, better than previous or current others, brings him to all of us.., The publisher describes this being an " authorized biography", which is true, in that the author was obviously a close friend of Gore Vidal's for many years. Vidal was happy about Jay Parini's plan to write this biography and offered him full access to friends and papers and lots of contributed conversation and life encounters. But, since it was written and published after Vidal's death (in 2012), it is probably (fortunately) more candid than the term " authorized" usually implies. Parini makes a genuine attempt--from the introduction on--to wear both hats--that of a devoted and admiring friend (who saw in Vidal a mentor and a father-figure) and that of an objective biographer who is writing about an important American man-of-letters.
The friend usually trumps the biographer, I think, but a lot of that may be to get the best (for example, he informs more than enough--but not likely too much, considering the role it plays in his writing--about Vidal's homosexuality. For those who want even more details, he or she refers you to another book by a different writer, " In Bed with Gore Vidal". Would that all biographers had that option! )
Parini was obviously a Vidal friend, not his lover, and this too may perhaps be a good thing. Due to the fact that friendship is such a big subtext here, I was interested how Parini's wife and children don't seem to have contact with Vidal although for others--like Paul Newman's kids, he was a perspicaz " uncle" figure. Regarding some reason, I particularly wondered about Parini's wife--did she know him, too? Like him? Not want to spend additional time collectively than necessary? We never know. After all, Vidal does seem like he or she could be pompous and cold if he did not like you--too ascerbic, too self-centered ( even often too drunk) and thus might not be to everybody's liking, particularly if could possibly be not willing to subsume their interests to his, as I think the author indicates that he or she was very willing to do, always. It may seem a trivial question, but I think Parini is a protective friend and has left out there some of the unpleasant, unpleasant parts of knowing Gore Vidal for those who did not make him the middle of attention..
There were some surprises in this book. For example, on the " early life" front, like many, I had assumed Vidal arrived from an upper class family. That was not, as Parini makes clear, precisely the case. His father was born in small town To the south Dakota, such a skilled athlete that he was recruited by West Level mid-college,. then went on to the Olympics in 1920 and 1924. Later became a pilot (and the great love of Amelia Earhart) and an aviation pioneer, co-founding three airline companies, including TWA and Eastern, and the Boston and Maine Railroad. --so he -was- rich, but as a self-made man (and " married-into-it" money), while Gore was growing up. He also had strained relations with his son, several stressed marriages and problems with alcohol--something Vidal seems to have contributed.
Vidal detested his mom who -was- born into high society. But it was her divorce from Vidal's father and marriage to wealthy Hugh Auchincloss later, that gave Vidal the connection to the Kennedys, since Hugh later remarried again and became Wendy Kennedy's stepfather. Vidal got a testy and significantly distant relationship with the Kennedys and Parini doesn't quite show quite how obnoxious Vidal could be (for example, he doesn't mention Vidal's derogatory attitude towards JFK's lifelong best friend, Lem Billings, calling him JFK's " slave" even making gay slurs about Billings who was, like Vidal, a gay man--but, unlike Vidal, an extremely very regular and loyal, UNself-centered friend. Parini does describe one White House social gathering that Vidal attended and I could understand why Bobby Kennedy wanted nothing to do with Vidal afterward. And no, it had not been because Vidal was gay, although he liked to think so. RFK went with Billings who was gay--but, unlike Vidal, at a White House meal Billings was respectful and socially appropriate. Bobby Kennedy--like Gore Vidal, I suspect--didn't suffer fools gladly. )
Vidal's nastiness towards Billings' to be too subservient to JFK particularly struck me as surprisingly lacking in self-awareness since Vidal appeared to require more acolytes than anyone, whether friends like Parini or his longtime companion (not a monogamous relationship), Howard Austen. Unequal relationships seemed the name of the game for him.
For all those his air of erudition and education, it also arrived as a surprise to me to learn that, after graduating from prep school, Vidal had never gone to college. Instead he or she went into the military (the setting for his first book, Williwaw). Yet he read widely, and deeply about history, and--college or not--was an mental and at ease with his well educated peers. His output of fiction was really astonishing, even writing mysteries as " Edgar Box", a pulp book as " Cameron Kay", and several teleplays, including the well received " Visit to a Small Planet" and, for the stage, " The Best Man: A Play about Politics". The latter was also made into an excellent movie, still available on dvd and blu-ray, starring Henry Fonda as a character who was considered modeled on Kennedy, High cliff Robertson as a rival " Tricky Dick" type and Lee Tracy as an incumbent president reminiscent of Harry Truman). The Best Man
Parini, as a near friend, often smoothes out there Vidal's narcissistic edges and mutes his sarcasm so that we see more of his warmth and wit and fewer sensations of the meanness. This specific tender approach to Vidal is decent for the personal things also it was nice to observe that he was a warmer, more generous and kindly friend than I had envisioned, less self-involved and self-destructive than a lot of his literary colleagues, rivals, and sometimes-friends like Tennessee Williams or Truman Capote (the latter who was never truly a friend, and occasionally was the target of some of Vidal's more cutting remarks--as well together lawsuit. )
Vidal, handsome, with a dignified manner and resonant baritone --plus his own desire to be considered bisexual rather than lgbt which he considered " degenerate" --had a different public persona than Williams and Capote did when it came to sex orientation. So it is very interesting that Gore Vidal, as the writer who was less " out", was the one who published about homosexual characters with (at the time shocking) visibility in his novel " The City and the Pillar" while Williams and Capote shied away from it. [per Wikipedia In 1948, The New York Times book vit, Orville Prescott, was so offended by the lgbt content from the City and the Pillar, that he or she refused to review it or have anyone otherwise at the NYT review it. ] " The City and the Pillar" was a very courageous novel in 1948--and would still be questionable today.
Parini reminds all of us that from the beginning Vidal's books always handled very interesting and often unexpected situations and themes. In the 1960s he wrote " Julian" about the Both roman Emperor who fought against Christianity spreading through the Roman Empire and then tried to bring back polytheism; " Washington, M. C. " was about the time of the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency (even though Vidal, like his grandfather, Senator Gore, didn't care much for FDR, writing to his grandfather when Roosevelt died, " The king is dead, long live the president. " ); and " Myra Breckenridge", which is alternately considered " his worst" and " a mess" or " hilarious satire". I read Myra Breckenridge within my teens and remember feeling shocked through the first part, then laughing that it was so completely over-the-top and ridiculous through the rest, eventually shrugging it all off as hit-or-miss satire that didn't seem particularly funny or tragic, just pointlessly absurd..
Now, reading Parini's description of " Breckenridge" and thinking about the gender discussions in 2015, I believe it probably was far more perceptive and original than I appreciated at the time and deserves to be read again and reevaluated, not merely ridiculed. In Parini's assessment of " Breckenridge", Vidal seems quite somewhat ahead of his time in his thoughts about gender functions and gender identification.
In case nothing else, this biography should remind people that Vidal was not simply a good novelist but that he or she wrote about interesting original subjects in a thought-provoking way--hopefully, Parini's biography will encourage more reading of Vidal's work--it has for me--
particularly as he isn't anthologized like many other writers of his time.
And it is stunning to be told of just how much work there was. He or she even wrote a tale about an alternate universe (" Duluth" ) and a time travel tale " The Smithsonian Institution". And " Washington DC" became the first part of a series of historical novels in his " Narratives of Empire". (The others were " Burr", " Lincoln" --both critically well received--" Empire", " Hollywood" and " The particular Golden Age".
Also refreshingly different are the religious/philosophical novels--" Live from Golgotha" about an early Orlando bishop, the novel " Kalki" about the conclusion of the world, and " Creation", which he or she considered his best work (and the one I most want to read now). The basic is so complicated that I'm giving the link: Creation: A Novel Parini's description of how the publisher demanded that Vidal delete 4 key chapters in " Creation" is painful to read--but gives a delightful regarding the realities of being an expert writer. Great to know that in 2002 he was able to restore those chapters to the book and republish it. And somehow in all this writing he found time for you to write a memoir " Palimpest" and then its sequel.
I liked and appreciated that Parini mentions each work in some detail (ambitious, since Vidal was incredibly prolific) including the premise and approach and also the critical response to it. My one disappointment here is similar to the criticism Vidal and Parini had of any biography they read, " It lacks a strong narrative. " The unhappy thing here is that a strong narrative was handy--if Parini had shown more about the politics developments in Vidal's life span that increasingly radicalized your pet (and he did not become that cliche--" the liberal turned conservative" as he aged. Agree or disagree, he was always a trenchant social critic with the courage of his convictions. Unfortunately, those are little displayed here, neither are the events that shaped them. )
Might be Parini doesn't share Vidal's left-leaning politics that freely had him speaking out there against American foreign plan for the last 40+ years. Or maybe he or she doesn't want to switch off a lot of readers because it was his politics and his blunt talk about what was wrong with the United states (Eisenhower's words) " military-industrial complex" and now also " national security state" --not his sexuality--that made Vidal so controversial, even reviled, by many Americans--and would still do so--more than ever--today. As a politics critic, Vidal's thoughts still have teeth and they are still relevant and important to ponder in their boldness. We skip much of that provocative " sting" here.
Not necessarily to say there is not some--the gratuitous (and unfair) spoken sniping at Bobby Kennedy after his assassination. The particular interesting (and strange) messages with Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh (and even Vidal gave up on seeking to make McVeigh a sympathetic figure). His thoughts on 9/11, Cheney and olive oil, and the Iraq war. But, like the articles spurred by the Vietnam war--they all get short shrift as far as historical fact goes. Is actually too bad, because the changing history of The usa in the 20th/21st centuries--and how Vidal changed with it--would have given it the narrative direction it lacks and prevented it being a lot about touring here or there, discovering these various famous friends or writing this work or that.
For example, the notorious televised trade between Vidal and the condescending rightwing publisher of the National Review, William Buckley Jr, at the Democratic Convention in 1968 is given several pages. Yet the context of this exchange and that chaotic convention--President Johnson having 500, 000 troops fighting in Vietnam by 1968 accompanied by massive bombings (plus over 55, 000 American casualties; and over 2 , 000, 000 Vietnamese killed, mostly civilians)--is barely mentioned. Historical activities are often a much-needed framework here and they don't appear very much. Sadly, none do Vidal's critical feelings about them in selection interviews and essays--an unfortunate lack and it also retains us from the vitality of his " voice".
He was blunt in his criticism of the Patriot Act--but we don't learn about that here. You will read it elsewhere that he called George W. Bush " the stupidest man in the United States". Or his critique of American overseas policy, that he felt it was not as Rose bush said, because of being disliked " for our goodness" but, per Vidal, for the greed of olive oil interests and other multi-national corporations, and a federal government that was comfortable with deposing democratically elected leaders--and starting wars--on behalf of corporate America. Vidal was blunt in labeling the defense of " independence fighters" and the statements of " spreading democracy" as simplistic propaganda. He or she liked to challenge Americans' assumptions and beliefs about ourselves and our country and mention when he or she felt that government was lying. More of that voice of Vidal-as-social-critic might have made this a less amiable but more thought-provoking (if also more controversial) book. Somehow more dispute would have been fitting, though, for a biography of Gore Vidal.
Parini does cover Vidal's own two political campaigns although again, without his frustration or passion for things to change. It would have been interesting to read one of his speeches, as a writer (philosopher? )-turned-politician.
As time passed, Vidal lost his place on late evening television set and was still left getting his critiques of American political power out there at the National press Club speeches. We read about that, also his disappointment that there was no longer an audience for him as there was in the times of Ashton Carson. But one wonders if Youtube videos plus a blog has been gratifying, had someone taken the time to do it with him. Vidal might have found an organic occurrence in social media, but perhaps by then he was already feeling too old--or had no-one to initiate it with him. A new loss, as he was a natural for Twitter--even as he undoubtedly would have mocked the development of social media.
Parini resolved the problem of how much of himself to interject by wisely starting each section with a private anecdote about Vidal. This provides us a story, a personal tidbit, but will not interrupt the circulation of chapters. And starts off many chapters which includes of Vidal's witticisms, nevertheless they are the " clever" ones, not quotes that make you truly think about the world you live in. Perhaps Parini felt " the real Vidal", complete with his political views, would turn off too many readers. I certainly did not care for his remarks about the Kennedys (or think they were fair) and many wouldn't like to see Ronald Reagan called " a sucess of the embalmer's art", even if it was obviously a double play on his age and what Vidal saw since the outmoded age of Reagan's ideas. Continue to, that was his voice and it would be a much better book to listen to it.
Oddly, one of the most disappointing items to me in this book was the description of Vidal's will. It is merely a postscript following his loss of life in 2013--but, without adding a spoiler, it greatly disappointed me after what I had read upwards until then. Thinking it over though, I think it was an appropriate ending for a book called " Empire of Self", ?nternet site think in the end, Vidal's pride and vanity were just much more powerful than his empathy and concern for those who helped him, for leads to, and for friends. Additional biographers have said he or she died as a sour alcoholic. If true--and Parini doesn't say so--that also would make clear it.
Within sum, this is a good overview of Vidal's life and personality and just as much an overview of his work. For many who lived through those times, this book brings back some memories, fleshed out from Parini's knowledge behind the scenes. Regarding those who are much younger, you may enjoy contemplating a period when Many finest writers were also some of America's most colorful and wittiest personalities--Vidal, at the top of the " witty" graph. Occasionally, as with Vidal, they also had something challenging to say about current events and politics and the ideas we believe and take for granted but which may very well be false. Hard to hear or not, Vidal's ideas, like his work, remain worth reading and thinking about and this is a very good introduction to him.
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