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The Golden Age

Gore Vidal, by Fred Kaplan


Occasionally a writer's manner of speaking, and by extension (as we may imagine) his manner of thinking, come across so clearly in his writing that after the book is put down, we begin to speak, to think, to write in his voice. I have heard that Hemingway's writing has had that effect on some readers. Ditto Faulkner's.

Gore Vidal unwittingly played the ventriloquist with his first biographer, Fred Kaplan, a Vidal aficionado whose Gore Vidal appeared in Bold Type in November of 1999. For those without time to listen to Kaplan read the prelude, it ends with the sentence: "The biographer as observer, participant, witness."

That neat stack of prepositional objects at the end, helped along by the commas, is an unusual locution: intuitive for a reader but unusual from a writer. It is also a favorite of Vidal's. Witness this bit from "Theodore Roosevelt: An American Sissy", from Vidal's essay collection United States: Essays 1952-1992.

"Since good Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt, Senior, could not endure what was happening to their party and country, they joined together to cleanse party, country."

Readers who have been awaiting Vidal's next collection of essays may notice that he still avoids the redundant "and" when possible. Also that he continues to write lively assessments of our most important cultural figures, combining warm appreciation ("Twain on the Grand Tour", "Sinatra") with chilly deprecation ("Nixon R.I.P", "Truman"). That he has maintained his usual par is the highest compliment I can think to pay to an essayist who seemed to spring forth--Athena-like--full formed, in the middle of the twentieth century, to write at the height of his considerable powers for five decades and more.

In this issue of Bold Type, read an essay from The Last Empire, "Shredding the Bill of Rights", as well as an essay from the newly-reprinted National Book Award-winning collection, United States: "Theodore Roosevelt: An American Sissy." Bold Type has featured The Golden Age, Vidal's newest historical fiction, with readings by the author, previously; also, the first biography of Gore Vidal, Gore Vidal by Fred Kaplan.

--Anson Lang
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  Photo credit: Jane Brown

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