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[68] The City and the Pillar – Gore Vidal

vidal.jpgWritten insanely ahead of its time (again, like Maurice), despite the pleasant emotion that aroused in the press, The New York Times would not advertise it and no major American newspaper or magazine would review it or any other Vidal’s books for the next six years,. That was 1948, just a few years after the end of the war, in the midst of the don’t ask/don’t tell/don’t-even-think-of-it muddle of the late 1940s, when love affair between two men was unheard of, and if not abnormal, unnatural. But Gore had the audacity to take on such theme of relations between gay and straight men in America. The description of the love affair between two normal all-American boys with piercing acuity and boldness of language–impinged the society and challenged every superstition about sex and threatened to overthrow inveterate family and moral values.

The two lovers (if you can call them so) were athletes and so drawn to the entirely musculine that, in the case of one, Jim Willard, whose odessey to find love the book so scrupulously captures, the feminine was simply irrelevant to his undying passion to unite with his other half, Bob Ford.From there launched a journey to search for the first love, who had gone to sea without any words and news. One might ask: How can one love somebody so deeply, so intensely, so completely that his affection, and feeling utterly eclipsed his own being? Jim Willard’s romantic passion for Bob Ford finally excluded everything else from his life, even, in a sense, the life itself. He became a drifter, meandering into the world of Hollywood actor, belle lettres writer, and discreet army soldier with whom he never allowed himself to fall in love, although he liked them. Despite the awful feeling of not having anybody to be close to, he cruised these men whose identity he couldn’t establish for with whom they had not a vestige of history like he had shared with Bob.

There is nothing fancy in the writing–despite the book is artistically done. The prose is plain and hard, so to-the-point and blunt. That the story is told in a flat gray prose, almost drained of any sentiment renders a cutting verisimilitude of Jim Willard’s situation. It paints the emptiness and loneliness of gay life so large that accentuates Jim’s own agony. Until he reunited with Bob, which seemed distant, inpalpable, he succumbed to occasional tango of casual sex, of sharing, of mutual enjoying–strictly out of lust for the purpose of pleasure. The City and the Pillar is a significant human document because it challenges one of the most guarded, and forbidden territories in societal conventions, inducing something so provocative that Brokeback Mountain continues to explore, with striking vividity and candor. The flatness of writing complements the drabness of love’s misfortune, woes, fear of commitment, and the inability of others to reciprocate the love one has to give. Amid all these are self-reflections of the ever-ending masquerade that was cast over his life–the necessary lies about his sexuality, the concealment of his escapade with Bob, and the disguise of his ineptitude to love because he could never let go of Bob.

The novel maintains a fine balance between cruising pleasure and sober longing. Jim’s loyalty is riveting–the unconditional manner, the way he wears his heart on the sleeves, even when the prospective of reuniting might not be auspicious, will touch those who have genuinely been in his shoes, although the odds against unrequisited love is heavy.

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10 Responses

  1. I’ve meant to read this one. I guess it’s about time since you’re recommending it.

  2. Okay, my pile is stacking higher and higher now. :)

  3. Really great review Matt. You make me want to read the thing. I’ve only read one Vidal book, his [1956] collection of seven short stories, A Thirsty Evil.
    Incredibly good. I loved them.
    – The best to you.
    – Cip

  4. Very nice review. I had no idea Gore Vidal had written anything like this. He falls into that grey area of contemporary authors I know little about other than that he’s iconic.

    But this one’s going on my admittedly already overlong TBR list.

  5. This book and its synopsis provided me with insight as I was struggling with my own romantic situation. I think my unrequited love and its social inability to pan out in realistical terms renders it the best prescription that I kill my feelings immediately (if so doing in fact is feasible) or keep them to myself for as long as possible. But it is a dangerous thing altogether, and in a situation like this, one’s instinct lets him grasp any piece of hope he could find, and build a world over time that centers the love, the beacon of hope and light. What happens when he finds (although he has been in denial) that his entire world he built is only of thin air? And has no real, solid, material basis? The anger and pain to be experienced then could only be expressed as the resolution found in this book.

  6. My tarot reading told me to have faith. Believing that something may happen is as sure a way as any for it to be happen, it said, and I guess it has its place—if I keep making concrete changes in my environment and myself, I may in the end have a chance with him. All the while keeping the faith alive. So I guess, in the end, though the novel provides me with one realistic picture of where my love story go, it is not the only way it HAS to go.

  7. I just finished this about 12 minutes ago. It really moved me. I found the characters very relatable and I think it’s my new favorite in the catagory.

    (already love your blog, nice to google reviews of “the city and the pillar” and your blog come up!)

  8. [...] with other successful gay writers of his epoch who were more direct in their approach. Because of The City and the Pillar, which tells the story of a young homosexual discovering the gay underground, Gore Vidal is [...]

  9. Great review, no one writes a review of this book as eloquently and surgically precise as you do. I read this book when I was in my undergrad years, which were a mosaic of soul-searching, unrequited love, and hopes. I am going to write about this book chez moi someday. Great review, it brought back a lot of bittersweet memories.

  10. [...] The City and the Pillar (mattviews.wordpress.com) Share this PostShareFacebookTumblrPinterestTwitterDiggLinkedInStumbleUponRedditEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

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