MJ Nicholls's Reviews > The City and the Pillar

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal
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Apr 29, 12

bookshelves: novels, merkins
Read on April 29, 2012

So few of my GR friends have read this and other Gore Vidal classics, I have to pose the question: where does Vidal stand in the American pantheon? Do his historical novels about the Republic turn readers off for their political content and supposedly dry writing? Does his late career as polemicist and hired mouthpiece present him as a dusty old eminence, far too close to the rich and famous to have any worth as an artist of substance? Can someone born into a wealthy political family, close to JFK and Al Gore, win admiration as a novelist? Answers please. More people should read his eccentric novels—clearly Gore takes more risks than many of his American contemporaries, coming from a refreshingly bisexual perspective, not the rampantly hetero angle of Mailer and Updike. This novel is an excellent early shocker about a teenager’s nascent homosexuality, and probably still provides solace to readers today, despite its 1940s barcode. The writing is concise, unshowy and closely renders the experience in a believable, painful way. I love Vidal for his completely unpretentious, direct, anarchic, sublimely erudite books! Why don’t Americans?
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Paquita Maria (last edited Apr 29, 2012 12:23PM) (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I found a copy of Myra Breckinridge at a thrift shop in Oklahoma recently. That at least says something, since--and I don't know if you know this or not--Oklahoma is not the most forward-thinking or culturally up-to-snuff state in the U.S. And that's putting it nicely.


message 2: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls Well some people think Myra is pornography, so maybe some sleazeball Oklahomian got his filthy hands on it for use in his backyard incestuous sexcapades (or Jerry Springer audition).


message 3: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Sadly, you may just be on to something there. However it happened, it created the necessary circumstances for me to obtain a nice hardcover version for 50 cents, and I will read it, dammit.


message 4: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls I keep saying Myra but this one was pretty good. But Myra really is essential. You can borrow Paquita's Oklahomian hardcover.


message 5: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez You sure can! When I'm done with it, you can have it, Mars.


message 6: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Why don’t Americans?

A very good question. I do harbor a kind of love for Vidal the man, and given that I've only read one of his novels, ages ago, and remember nothing of it (a hazard of reading books too young), and a couple of his later polemical works, I think my love springs from clips of him on intellectual TV shows of the 50s and 60s (seen not at the time but much later, of course).

Are his novels even in print anymore? That might have something to do with it. Also young and youngish people going to the library and seeing swaths of an author untouched for a decade or more doesn't always kindle the desire to read. Out of date covers, cover art, typefaces, these are the obstacles someone like a Vidal must contend with. I think it must be similar for Louis Auchincloss and probably countless others.

I must say, you make him sound quite appealing and I may have to take another gander.


message 7: by Ali (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ali I know several people who have heard of Gore Vidal, but when it comes to people who actually read Gore Vidal, the list gets much shorter. By which I mean that it stopps existing. At least it did, until now. I think it's a combination of all three reasons you gave, as well as the one outlined by Lobstergirl (Though I don't like to think that something as simple and petty as out of date covers and typefaces could turn people off of reading great authors). Many American readers, the ones I've dealt with off of Goodreads, anyway, harbour an odd fear of the types of things Vidal writes. When describing his books to them, as soon as the words "political" or "Historical" are spoken, unless they like historical fiction, though they try to keep up the appearance of being interested in what I have to say with ocasional "Yeah"'s and "That sounds like really cool, d00d!"'s I can feel them mentally disconnecting from the conversation because they think he's going to be boring without giving me a chance to describe all of his other, non-historical or political works. I have something like forty books by him, and I would say maybe fifteen of them are overtly historical or political.
I should give The City and The Pillar another chance. I read it two years ago, and gave it three stars on here (I'd probably round it up to 3.5 if I could), mainly because of the ending. However, my tastes have matured a great deal since then, so I might have a different prospective now. Maybe I'll reread Myra as well, and revisit my childhood. Read it for the first time when I was thirteen.


message 8: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls Lobstergirl: Abacus (the UK imprint of Little, Brown) have most of his novels in print over here, albeit with very samey covers. I do agree that a dusty historical novel is in no way as appealling as a shinyjacketed new edition. I wouldn't have read Gore in an old tattered hardcover.

Ali: I hear you. I've tried to make the case for some of his quirkier books on here. C&P's ending gets a lot of stick, but I really don't see it as "melodramatic" myself. I'm pleased that an earlier Vidal novel interested me as one of his mid-period cranky ones.


message 9: by Sketchbook (last edited Aug 21, 2012 01:17PM) (new)

Sketchbook Vidal was a "first" (hs subj) w "City." NYT qvueen reviewer, at time, scorched him. (NYT stayed anti-hs until 1988 when exec AM Rosenthal retired to can dill pickles.) ~~ "Myra," Vid's best novel. His top writing is in collected essays, "The Second American Revolution." Do read. Where does he stand today in US? Still to be resolved. Gore, alas, could be pompous ass...report those who met him.


Jesse I suspect City still has a place in the heart of a certain--though ever-shrinking--segment of young gay men; it certainly does mine (it was one of the first things I read after my own coming out). It'll be interesting if Mr. Vidal's return to the public spotlight due to his recent passing will turn out to have stirred up a more lasting re-interest in his work. That and views on sexuality are certainly become more and more in line with contemporary perspectives

Or maybe now that he has passed someone will make a movie of his life a la his longtime nemesis Capote?


message 11: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook To tease re movie bio : where's the tension?


message 12: by Jesse (last edited Aug 21, 2012 01:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jesse Hmmm... maybe the Vidal/Buckley debates? But yeah, I know what you mean, there's no huge dramatic incident in his life, but I feel like there's so many details that could be used with a bit of creativity, like a "behind the scenes" of the set of Ben Hur along the lines of My Week with Marilyn... don't let Chuck H know he's playing gay!


Jesse Or if anything, I nice doc along the lines of the recent Isherwood/Bachardy one. Though Vidal's would probably be subtitled "an anti-love story."


message 14: by Sketchbook (last edited Aug 21, 2012 01:57PM) (new)

Sketchbook Im reminded of when a film version - in 40s - was dun on the life of Cole Porter. He wuz rich, famous, had it all. Some wag asked, "Where's the conflict?" WELL.
We know, and Im not referring to the horse accident. I think of it every time I pony...


message 15: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls The Gore Vidal Story, starring Greg Kinnear.


message 16: by Sketchbook (last edited Aug 21, 2012 02:12PM) (new)

Sketchbook Good casting, but I cant get Greg financed...Zo, get out the casting couch for lo-budg. (Or, is Rhys-Meyers still on drugs?)


message 17: by David (new) - added it

David gud question!!


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