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Vidal at lowest ebb--riding his hobbyhorses, engaging in precisely the sort of superficial ""book-chat"" which he affects to despise, and writing with a tired flashiness that fails to disguise the absence of substance. Only two of the 19 pieces here, in fact, seem worthy of hard-cover preservation: an infectious tribute to L. Frank Baum (""a true educator""), surveying both the Oz canon and its critics; and a useful small study of Italian writer/politician Leonardo Sciascia. Elsewhere, GV has effortful fun with easy targets--such as the ""ubiquitous Professor Bruccoli"" (the proto-academic packager of Fitzgeraldiana) or writers of I-found-Christ memoirs. He presents hackneyed ideas--e.g., that the ""traditional Cautionary Tale of Fitzgerald's fragile genius"" is not entirely trustworthy--as if they were original. His book reviews begin promisingly, then dither or cop out: a piece on Edmund Wilson lapses first into list-making (""In The Thirties, I counted twenty-four references to shoes and feet""), then into commonplaces (""Wilson's particular genius lay in his ability to make rather more connections than any other critic""); some perceptive comments on Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind degenerate into gay propaganda; an appreciation of David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback soon distorts McCullough's thesis grotesquely (""Give a sissy a gun and he will kill everything in sight""); a review of Doris Lessing's science fiction gets close to insight, then collapses into over-simplified phrasemaking (""Lessing would do well to abandon the woolly Idries Shah in favor of Mr. L. Ron Hubbard""). Indeed, Vidal seems in the right ballpark here only when chatting about two undistinguished books on film. And his assaults on the Moral Majority and its kin--especially two repetitious, hysterical attacks on ""fag-baiting"" by ""a group of New York Jewish publicists""--will only dismay other, less narrowly concerned opponents of nco-Right Wingers. A generally sorry potpourri, then, including an update of the half-sensible, half-goofy Vidal political platform; and by now even Vidal's style--which has for so long concealed so much (or so little)--has lost its waspish allure.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1982
Publisher: Random House