Gore Vidal laid bare in revealing memoir Sympathy for the Devil

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      Sympathy for the Devil
      By Michael Mewshaw. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 200 pp, hardcover

      Before television comedians took over the job of ridiculing the political machinations of America’s rich, that role belonged to Gore Vidal.

      By birth and upbringing he was one of them: a moneyed member of the white East Coast elite. But he became an apostate. In novels, plays, and essays, he showed America just how belligerent, bellicose, and barbaric a place it could sometimes be. “Anybody who isn’t paranoid isn’t in full possession of the facts,” he liked to say—decades before Edward Snowden was even born.

      Since his death in 2012, several books about Vidal have appeared. None is as forthright as Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship With Gore Vidal, a short memoir by an American writer who, like Vidal, spent much of his life as an expat in Italy.

      To call Vidal well connected is an understatement. For example, he was part of Camelot because his mother later became Jackie Kennedy’s stepmum. He said he was surprised by President Kennedy’s assassination because he always supposed a jealous husband would have done the killing. Michael Mewshaw writes: “People expected him to be outrageous and he seldom disappointed them.”

      Vidal was a “homosexualist” (the term he preferred, for some reason) who came to prominence with a gay-themed novel, The City and the Pillar, that shocked everyone in 1948. He is thought to have slept with thousands of young men, ones outside his social class, but only to receive pleasure, he said, never to administer it. Mewshaw writes that he was “prone to identify everyone as gay, sapphic or bi”.

      Howard Austen, Vidal’s long-suffering companion of almost 50 years, weaves throughout the book—though “weaves” more accurately describes Vidal himself, who was evidently a hopeless alcoholic in his last years. One pathetic scene shows Vidal addressing a literary conference, unable to remember even the titles of his own books, much less other people’s.

      His wit, however, remained unimpaired. Asked to stand as a godfather to a friend’s baby, he sighed and said: “Always a godparent, never a god.” Another vignette depicts him sitting in a silent, drunken daze, as though carrying on an interior conversation. Then, suddenly, he opens his mouth. “The three saddest words in the English language,” he says. “Joyce Carol Oates.”

      But in his prime he was a marvel. In the author’s words, “He embodied Goethe’s dictum that the world only goes forward because of those who oppose it.”



      Brad Lowe

      May 14, 2015 at 9:46am

      Currently reading his memoir 'Palimpsest' and need a dictionary handy as he likes to use 'big' words. Title of book for example.
      All kidding aside we need folks like Vidal who see through all the bs politicians and blowhards like Limbaugh and Jeb Bush give us on a daily basis (of course you don't need Vidal to point out that boner by Bush and how he would do the same thing as his brother as in invading Iraq, wtf)
      Of course, people will be preoccupied by his sexual orientation and his personal life and care less about his erudite views on politics and the how the world works in general because frankly it's too hard of materiel to go through or it's not sexy enough or whatever and people would rather see the latest Kardasian 15 minutes of fame that's been going on for over a decade now.
      He wrote a ton of books and plays. His grandfather was a US Senator his father helped form the US air force and the list goes on. He's an American icon but because he spoke and wrote so vehemently against the establishment no one really knows him accept in literary circles.