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gore vidal reads from The Golden Age

audio highlights from interview

  On the occasion of the recent opening of Gore Vidal's play, The Best Man, the author took up temporary residence at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. I visited him there on a Friday to record readings from his new book, The Golden Age, the seventh and final in his series of historical novels that began with Washington, D.C. in 1967, and has since grown to include Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, and Hollywood.

No theme is nearer to Gore Vidal's heart than Power, especially as it is acquired and used by politicians and other figures in public life. His intimacy with our nation's political heritage began in early youth, which he spent in great part in the company of his grandfather, the populist Senator from Oklahoma, Thomas Pryor Gore. T.P. Gore was blind and an insatiable reader, a combination of attributes that made necessary the assistance of the young Gore Vidal, whose passion for history was either born or further developed in this new role as his grandfather's designated reader.

Many decades later, Vidal reads from the culmination of one of his life's great projects, a historical narrative seven novels long, that traces the birth of our republic and its transformation into an empire. Near the end of his performance, he delivers an excellent impersonation of the voice of FDR, in the course of recounting the president's fourth inaugural address. Whether or not Vidal attended this particular scene as a young man, I'm not sure (His grandfather, despite being a fellow-Democrat of Roosevelt's, was at odds with many of FDR's policies). However, the scene of the inaugural, like the rest of The Golden Age, is recalled with the familiarity of a careful researcher and an intimate of the historical figures involved.

The Golden Age for which the book is named spans the years 1939 to 1954, from the beginning of the Second World War to the end of the Korean conflict. Like most Golden Ages, it is not. Interested parties foreign and domestic conspire to move an isolationist America into the new European War, using all means at their disposal: sex and money for the elite, propoganda and coercion for the rest. Meanwhile the foreground is occupied by the Sanford clan, especially father Blaise, a publisher by inclination, and son Peter, a journalist by convenience. Vidal navigates from the concerns of politics to those of media, two non-separate worlds whose nature he understands perhaps too well. He traces expertly the outlines of those golden illusions which aspire to conceal, and those great appetites which rule nevertheless.

In this issue of Bold Type, Gore Vidal offers two readings and a written excerpt from The Golden Age, and one of his best-loved essays, "Calvino's Death."

--Anson Lang
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  Photo credit: Jane Brown

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