Gore Vidal

Williwaw (Gore Vidal) - Panther Books Ltd. - (1946, 1965) - 191 pages

This first novel by Gore Vidal was written during World War II in 1944 when Vidal was 19 years old.  Vidal was serving as a warrant officer on a Dutch Harbor patrol boat in the Aleutian Islands.  The story is not about combat.  A "williwaw" is a sudden, hurricane-like storm that lasts for a short period (two days in the book) along the northern Pacific coast of Alaska.  The small patrol vessel is surprised by a williwaw during a two-day trip from Dutch Harbor to Arunga.  Although Vidal later explained that the story is complete fiction and that he never encountered a williwaw, his description of events puts the reader right in the middle of the storm.  The secondary story here is about one of the sad love triangles that occurred numerous times between members of the military and one woman during wartime.  Considering the shortage of available women in any port during WWII, these scenes must have played over and over again.  In this short novel, Vidal effectively develops the characters of many men he probably met during that time.  This first published effort fore-shadowed the works of Vidal who became one of the greatest American writers. [JAM 5/22/2019]

"Williwaw is well told, the picture of man and events is vividly engrossing." [Eleanor Roosevelt - New York World Telegram 1947]

In a Yellow Wood - E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc. - 1947 - 216 pages

Vidal went to work for a publisher after his time in service.  This novel is about a young man (Robert Holton) who is working in an office after his time in service.  The story is about one day in Mr. Holton's life.  But, it is a very important day.  It is the day when he makes a decision about the future of his life (Frost's "Yellow Wood").  For Vidal, the transition came early in his life.  He joined the army instead of going to college.  He had already had two novels published by the age of 22.  He thrived with one occupation: writer for his entire life.  He loved "the novel" and the written word.  He continued to write and publish for over 65 years.  There are many coincidences in this transition day for Holton.  But such is the essence of the novel when such themes can be pursued in a single volume.  This is a book about the lives of young men and women in the 1940s.  [JAM 1/20/2020]

The City and the Pillar - E.P. Dutton & Co./Ballantine Books - (1948/1979) - 199 pages

At a time when most of our homosexuals were "in the closet" and many others were being persecuted or prosecuted for their behavior, Vidal wrote this semi-autobiographical novel about a young, confused homosexual man and the people he knew in his early twenties.  Two of the characters (Jim & Sullivan) are based on Gore Vidal as a young man and as an established author, respectively.  A third character (Bob Ford) is certainly also based on Vidal's young friend, James Trimble who died in World War II (1945).  For all of its notoriety, there is really not much that happens in this story.  It is basically about the meanderings of a young man in search of meaning in his life.  He met people.  He left people.  And then he returned to many of them with unsatisfactory results.  In my opinion, the young Vidal felt that he had to write this story to be true to himself.  And, Gore Vidal was always a fearless truth-teller.  [JAM 2/14/2020]

The Season of Comfort - E.P. Dutton & Co. - 1949 - 253 pages

Eighteen years before his "Narratives of Empire" series, author Vidal wrote this book about the family of Vice-President "William Hawkins" who served from 1925 to 1929 with President Calvin Coolidge.  The actual VP was Charles G. Dawes but that did not matter in Vidal's first attempt at political fiction.  The story follows three generations of the Hawkins family that closely mirrors the actual experiences of the Gore family.  Substitute VP Hawkins with Vidal's actual maternal grandfather, Senator Thomas Pryor Gore and everything falls in line.  The protagonist (Grandson Bill Hawkins) was a painter (not a writer) who was attracted to a young man in prep school (Jimmie) and joined the military during World War II instead of going to college.  However, the primary conflict in the book is the interaction between Bill Hawkins and over-bearing mother, Charlotte.  Their disputes culminate in a 12-page parallel thought/dialog exchange that represents their final personality splits.  It was hard to tell where Vidal was going with this volume until the young Hawkins started to resemble a young Eugene Luthor (Gore) Vidal.  After reading the modern works of this great author, it is interesting to see how he got there.  Gore Vidal thought that he was one of the last great novelists.  I agree.  [JAM 3/20/2020]