Contrarians- particularly funny ones- can be the spice of life because they keep you on your toes and, most importantly, get you thinking. We’ve just lost the greatest contrarian of all:Gore Vidal who died at the age of 86.
I’ve been reading and re-reading Vidal for most of my life. His historical novels were not only very popular but they breathed life into the past as well as putting the story back into history. He was a master of mixing real people in with fictional characters and spinning a helluva yarn. His status as our national contrarian was perfected with the publication of Burr, which was an argument on behalf of one of the great scamps of our history, Aaron Burr.
His rather surrealistic novels such as Myra Breckinridge, Myron, Duluth and Kalki are underrated gems.Myron is one of the funniest books ever written in the English language; especially Vidal’s use of Supreme Court Justice’s names for bodily naughty bits. To paraphrase Tricky Dick’s henchman John Mitchell, if you have them by the Whizzer Whites, their hearts will surely follow. Or was that Chuck Colson?
Much of Vidal’s literary reputation lies in his essays; many of which started as book reviews for various publications but took on a life of their own. This is the body of the master’s work that I have avidly re-read and poured over the most. Vidal’s sharp wit and barbed prose is a major influence on my own humble work as an internet smart ass. Anyway, check out United States, which is the uber compilation of some of Vidal’s finest essays.
In many ways, Gore Vidal was the H.L. Mencken of our time although the only thing the two of them would have agreed on was the power of the written word and the utter awesomeness of a good wise crack. Mencken was something of a conservative curmudgeon whereas Vidal was a man of the left always eager for a scrap with any and all comers. They were both, however, elegant writers with barbed tongues and sharp literary knives.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of Vidal’s importance as an openly gay writer (even though he preferred the term same-sexer) and the firestorm his 1948 novel, The City And The Pillar caused. I will leave that to others. All I can say is this: he will be missed.