Writing in The New York Review of Books recently, Gore Vidal wondered why so ""valuable a genre"" as the historical novel...



Writing in The New York Review of Books recently, Gore Vidal wondered why so ""valuable a genre"" as the historical novel should be disdained by ""our solemn writers,"" when ""what happened last summer at Rutgers,"" if presented in a dull novel under the rubric of ""realism,"" should be thought superior. These remarks, as it turns out, appear to have been intended as a prelude to a recreation of his own: the career of Aaron Burr, vice-president under Jefferson, assailant of Hamilton in a famous duel on Weehawk Heights, alleged arch-conspirator in a plot to set up a kingdom somewhere in Mexico. Burr is a dark figure, a prey of romanticists. Vidal, however, fleshes him in fine classical fettle, the full flower of 18th-century rationalism sprouting in his head. It is a clever book, the elegant conception of a spirited professional. But perhaps it does answer the question Vidal poses to the questioner's disadvantage. For while the intricacies of plot, the political climate, the social pace and prejudices of the day are admirably drawn, never for a moment does the reader forget that he is in the presence of, after all, an entertaining invention. That ""summer at Rutgers,"" on the other hand, has the grain of truth that comes from a writer's experience. It may bore us, but it compels belief. Burr does not. Then, too, Vidal uses one of the oldest of gambits, a device he deplores in other novelists, ""the sort of storytelling that propels the hero from one person to the next person, asking questions"". Interspersed between sections of the memoirs of Burr is the long chronicle of a reporter in pursuit of the truth about the Colonel during the last years of the latter's life. Burr has pointed speeches lamenting the lack of ""civilization on this God-forsaken continent."" ""Between the dishonest canting of Jefferson: and the poisonous egotism of Hamilton, this state has been no good from the beginning."" These add a certain weight and irony to the novel, considering our mood of national discontent and a troubled bicentennial looming in the wings.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1973

ISBN: 0375708731

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1973