Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hollywood: A Novel of America in the 1920s

1990, 1999 Modern Library edition
Gore Vidal
Hollywood: A Novel of America in the 1920s
Original price $24.95, purchase price $12.49
Good condition hardcover

Many of my criticisms for Empire (and some of the other novels) still hold, not just the ages being a few years off, but more importantly Vidal's ironic distance from the characters meaning that there's not much resonance.  There's a scene where Blaise's wife Frederika has Burden over-- they're having an affair that, like Blaise and Burden's one-night-stand, isn't ever mentioned or hinted at in Washington, D.C.--  when Blaise and his half-sister Caroline (by now Burden's ex) walk in.  And it's no big deal to anyone, including the reader.  It's not just that these folks are so sophisticated and sexually liberated, it's that no one's in love or even particularly emotionally involved.  Similarly, when Blaise goes to a male prostitute, part of the appeal (to him) is that there's no kissing.

It's not much different for the politics that take up most of the book, despite the title.  The novel actually begins in 1917, shortly before the U.S. joins the Great War, and we don't get to Hollywood or the 1920s till fairly far in.  I did enjoy the look at Chaplin et. al., but I didn't really care about Caroline's career as actress or producer, again because she doesn't seem to care much.  She does eventually sell out to Blaise her share of the newspaper she founded, setting up the situation of Washington, D.C.  In fact, Peter, Enid, and Diana appear as very small children in this entry, which goes up to 1923, shortly after Harding's death.  I still think that first-written novel is the weakest, because at least this one is more consistent with the characters, and does have moments of charm and/or interesting scandal, particularly the death of William Desmond Taylor.  (The Fatty Arbuckle scandal allows Vidal more of the rape jokes he likes to have his characters tell.)

I've read but don't own Vidal's The Golden Age, although I'm hoping to buy a used copy by the time I get to 2000.  It overlaps the time of D.C., but now with Caroline as one of the players.  Even if I don't get that book, this isn't the last of Vidal, since there's Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings for 1999....

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