Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, December 31, 2012

Gore Vidal, _Point to Point Navigation_

THE LIBRARY OF America is planning a Vidal volume, surely? I suggest there should be at least three.  One volume for the essays, of course, to me his greatest achievement--United States plus The Last Empire and the later pieces. One for a selection of the novels--which were not so consistently strong as to justify republishing all of them, as they did for James and Faulkner and intend to do for Roth, but imagine a collection including The Judgement of Paris (the first novel in which Vidal sounds like Vidal), Burr (the best of the American history cycle, animated by Vidal's intuitive understanding of the founding fathers), Julian (Vidal the classicist at his feistiest), Myra Breckinridge (Vidal as gender/sexuality provocateur), and Two Sisters (not so famous as the others, but every key strand of Vidal is braided into this short novel).

For the third volume, let's have the autobiographically-inflected books--Palimpsest, Screening History, and this one.

Point to Point Navigation is subtitled "A Memoir, 1964-2006," suggesting it is a continuation of Palimpsest, and at times it almost is, but it is less a narrative of those years (which would have been amazing to have, for Vidal's accounts of his encounters with Buckley, Mailer, and Midge Decter, or of his California senatorial campaign, or his correspondence with Timothy McVeigh) than a tour of the contents of Vidal's capacious mind, circa 2005, conducted in the episodic fashion suggested by the title.

A lot of it is about the dead--dead friends, dead enemies, dead frenemies (e.g., Tennessee Williams), dead loved ones, especially his grandfather, his father, and Howard Auster/Austen, Vidal's longtime partner.  ("Partner" is a word Vidal handles with tongs--despite The City and the Pillar and "Pink Star and Yellow Triangle," he was never the spokesman the gay activist community thought it wanted--had he been, he might be on more syllabi now.) Quite a bit of it is about what the authors of books about him got wrong or, occasionally, right. Quite a few of the book's stories he has told before--as he himself  notes.

His last book, in effect--Snapshots in History's Glare is technically the last, I guess, but witty as its captions are, it is not a book in quite the sense that Point to Point Navigation is.  What a voice Vidal's prose had--the last of a kind, one would say, except that he was always one of a kind.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Julian Gough, _Jude: Level One_

THE BLURBS ON my copy compare Gough to Flann O'Brien and J. P. Donleavy, which comparisons I am guessing are meant to convey that he is male, Irish, and funny. He reminds me less of those two writers, though, than he does of a certain 1960s-ish vein of anarchic satire--Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Southern, Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!--in his gleeful embrace of implausibilities and impossibilities as it skewers every pomposity that hoves into view.

Á la Rasselas or Candide, we follow a naïve, likeable, and luckless young man on a picaresque journey from Tipperary to Galway to Dublin (later installments will take him, I gather, to England and then to the United States), in the course of which he gets a series of upsetting (but hilarious) lessons in the idols of this world--wealth, power, love--in the peculiar manifestations they took on in Ireland during the real-estate bubble years of the mid-1990s.

Some familiarity with Ireland will help the reader, such as knowing about such personalities as Eamonn de Valera and Charles Haughey, and such entities as the Irish Times and Fianna Fail. It will help, as well, to be able to recognize the contours of Irish nationalist ideology, for Jude: Level 1is as incisively funny about that animal as are Martin McDonagh's Lieutenant of Inishmore and (going way back) Denis Johnston's The Old Lady Says No.

It may all be a little too Irish for many, but I laughed out loud a good dozen times reading this--and it takes a lot to get me to laugh out loud.