United States: Essays 1952–1992 by Gore Vidal - review by Bryan Appleyard

Bryan Appleyard

Further Prattling from Old Subversive Smartyboots

United States: Essays 1952–1992


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Gore Vidal is approaching seventy and fat books of essays like this one seem to sound the right note of elderly solidity. Equally, he might, at his age, be forgiven for the touch of complacent paranoia in the title. The United States in question are not the nation but the three categories into which he divides his essays – literature, politics and personal responses. ‘So, herewith’ , he writes, ‘my three states – united.’

But, of course, they are the nation because Vidal, the product of two distinguished American families, has always seen himself as both the chronicler and the slightly subversive embodiment of the history of the Republic. ‘There is’, he writes with dandy wistfulness, ‘some evidence that by fits and starts the United States is achieving a civilization.’ It is a sentence that could only be written by a man who sees himself as a pretty significant part of that civilization, perhaps only by one who ‘divides his time between Los Angeles, California, and Ravello, Italy’.

When in the States and appearing on television, an activity he enjoys, this dividing of his time provides easy ammunition for his enemies. Who the hell, they invariably ask, does he think he is,

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