GORE VIDAL by Fred Kaplan


A Biography
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Although Kaplan has declared, “I prefer my subjects dead,” such as Dickens (1988) and Henry James (1992), he more than rises to the task in this lively biography of the prolific, controversial author. Vidal’s own anecdotal, rather pitiless memoir, Palimpsest (1995), covered a little over halfway through his life, having beaten one failed biographic attempt, and left many wanting more. Kaplan delivers a volume almost as long as his The Essential Gore Vidal (1999) and longer than his previous well-received efforts. With Kaplan’s near-total access to Vidal’s papers, reams of interviews, and assured editorial independence, Vidal’s privileged Washingtonian background and ever-changing literary career, plus his talent for literary blood sports, make him as natural and fascinating a subject for a biography as for headlines. Grandson of Oklahoma’s first senator and son of a Roosevelt cabinet director, Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. showed little promise despite exclusive schooling, had a noncombatant tour of duty in WWII, and then immediately succeeded with his first novel, Williwaw. In Vidal’s metamorphosis from promising young writer to perennial enfant terrible, only a few holes arise here and there, such as his breaking off an engagement with his high school sweetheart and his depression after the mixed reception of his third novel. Kaplan’s talent for setting social milieus keeps up with the innumerable names that drop in and out of Vidal’s life (including Tennessee Williams, Anaãs Nin, Paul Bowles, and Paul Newman, to name just a few), though he refrains from assessing in depth Vidal’s place in the assorted creative scenes in which he figured so prominently, such as playwriting, screenwriting, the bestseller, and the polemical essay. While frank about Vidal’s homosexuality, Kaplan tastefully avoids psychologizing, though the psychodramas of Vidal’s relationship with his narcissistic mother and his feuds with William F. Buckley Jr., Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer are juicily tempting. A rich chronicle of a celebrated career not yet in past tense. (50 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-47703-1
Page count: 864pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999


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