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The seventh and last of Gore Vidal's Novels of Empire, one of the oddest and most original series in the history of American Literature. The Golden Age
brings us into the Age of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman-and Gore Vidal, all of whom make appearances in this abundantly peopled novel. History buffs will enjoy the author's frequently idiosyncratic interpretations and his backroom dish; indeed, few novelists have ever passed inside the beltway gossip as assiduously as the adroit.
The Biographer of Empire
Gore Vidal published his first novel at the tender age of 19 and immediately set off on a career as a man of letters, declining to enter a life in politics through a door held wide open for him by his extensive family connections. But as a novelist, his foremost concern has always been with politics and the gradual unfolding of the American empire. The Golden Age is the seventh of his "novels of empire," which trace this unfolding with the wit, candor, and insight that only an insider can bring. In this latest installment, we are led masterfully from the outbreak of the Second World War through the Korean War and the beginning of the U.S.-Soviet arms race. But rather than using a historical setting as the backdrop for a timeless examination of the human condition (as is the case with many historical novels), Vidal tells real history against the backdrop of a novel and its characters.
The novel has two witnesses through whose lives this midcentury history is told: Caroline Sanford, a Hollywood actress turned Washington newspaper publisher, and her nephew, Peter Sanford, a journalist who launches a leftist intellectual journal following World War II. Caroline's are the eyes and ears of the first section of the novel, which ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declaration of war against Japan. Vidal devotes much of this section to the Machiavellian intrigues that propelled the United States into the war, chief among them the assertion that the Japanese attack was carefully orchestrated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide an excuse for overcoming widespread isolationist sentiment.
The novel's second section, which traces the rise of the arms race and the new intelligentsia forming in its wake, is told largely through the eyes of Peter, whose journal, The American Idea, comes under fire from the House Un-American Activities Committee. Caroline, a silent-film star and newspaper publisher in the time of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, never really makes it into the postwar world, and her death in the midst of a conversation with Peter about the new power of television comes as no surprise. But Peter's metamorphosis into a late-century gray eminence is a neat trick that allows Vidal to write a final scene in which he himself discusses with one of his characters the world-historical significance of the events portrayed in the novel.
The Golden Age is many things: a memoir of sorts, an insightful portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a well-constructed case for the theory that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was deliberately provoked, a tell-all, an epic, a eulogy. But in all of this multifaceted splendor, it also happily remains an excellent novel from one of the finest writers of "the American century."
--Jacob Silverstein lives in Marfa, Texas.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Vidal's latest historical novel, which focuses on the FDR, McCarthy and Korean War periods, is like a gathering of Washington, Hollywood and New York gossip columnists--all of whom are Vidal personae arguing American politics and culture among themselves. Vidal even turns up as a character from time to time to remind us of his own role in 20th-century art and artifice. Raised in the house of his grandfather, Oklahoma senator Thomas P. Gore, Vidal did in fact know many of the top players in the midcentury American game; thus the novel's details of unromantic affairs, political shenanigans and history-shaping manipulations are rendered believable. Narrator Walker is wonderful. She has a deep, sexy, expressive voice reminiscent of Lauren Bacall, at turns amused, ironic, sardonic, sometimes even serious. At the end, Vidal himself narrates, waxing philosophical on the end of the century and his life during that time. Because this four-tape abridgement of a 720-page book often leaps across chronology, it sometimes takes a minute for listeners to orient themselves, but it's worth the effort. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, July 24). (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
This concluding volume to Vidal's history of the American "empire" covers the period from 1939 to the end of the Korean War, with a brief coda set in the present and Vidal himself serving as the narrator. At the cusp of World War II, Roosevelt is plotting his own reelection to an unprecedented third term and looking for a way to insure popular support for American involvement in the fight against Hilter. Once again, a descendant of Aaron Burr finds himself at the center of the political, social, and, to a lesser extent, cultural whirl. With the right family connections to gain him entry into the portals of power and the literary abilities that allow him to found a successful magazine of commentary, Peter Sanford cynically observes as F.D.R. maneuvers us into war and as Truman the haberdasher digs in against the "Communist menace." The novel is replete with a lively cast of both real and imagined characters and exhibits the typical Vidal wit and erudition. As were the earlier volumes in this series (e.g., Lincoln, 1876), this is likely to be very popular with a library audience. Essential for all public and academic libraries collecting Vidal's work. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]--David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Rich in dialogue and mirthless humor, The Golden Age is the hard slap sentimentalists of the war have ahd coming, and a worthy conclusion to one of the finest sustained historical visions in American literature.
New York Observer
As usual for Vidal, it's absorbing work, and when he strolls into history as a precocious young author spilling clever repartee at a Guggenheim cocktail hour, you find yourself welcoming his presence.
Though its narrative temperature remains dangerously low, entertainment value is dependably high in this seventh and last of Vidal's delectable Novels of Empire.
From the Publisher
"[A] true magnum opus."
The New York Times
"A smart, witty Washington novel... You'll be gripped to the edge of your Chesterfield... Long live Gore Vidal."
"Rich in dialogue and mirthless humor, The Golden Age is... a worthy conclusion to one of the finest sustained historical visions in American literature."
The New York Observer
Read an Excerpt
ONECopyright 2001 by Gore Vidal
Timothy X. Farrell suddenly visualized the opening shot to the film that he had planned to make of Daphne Du Maurier's lush novel Rebecca. He had just pulled into the driveway to Laurel House, set high above the slow-churning Potomac River, and there before him in the icy silver moonlight was the start of his movie had David O. Selznick not outbid him for the movie rights and then hired Alfred Hitchcock, of all people, to direct.
Plainly, a true disaster was now in the making.
Attendants parked cars in front and to the side of the mock-Georgian facade of the house of what would have been his brother-in-law, Blaise Delacroix Sanford, had Timothy and Blaise's half sister, Caroline Sanford, ever had time to get married in those busy years when, together, they had created a film studio that, for a time, nearly changed movie history until . . . What was the name, he wondered, of Olivia De Havilland's sister? The one who was now the lead in Rebecca.
Timothy parked at the front door. He could almost hear what's-her-name's voice over the screen: "Last night I dreamed I had gone back to Manderley"or whatever the line was. Purest junk, of course. Timothy preferred his own "true to life" Hometown series of movies, but the public was supposed to be more at home with beautiful houses and beautiful people and a dark mystery at the heart of it all; not to mention a great fire that reveals a terrible secret. Even so, he had wanted desperately to direct Rebecca: something un-Farrellesque in every way.
The butler was since his time. "Sir?"
Timothy gave his name. Then: "Is my film crew here?"
The butler was nowall attention. "Oh, yes, Mr. Farrell! This is an honor, sir. To meet you. Your camera people are setting up in the library." The drawing room was full of Washington grandees, some elected; some born in place, like Alice Roosevelt Longworth, wearing for once the wrong blue; some newly arrived from abroad now that England and France were at war with Germany. Nevertheless, for an average American like the butler, the defining, the immortalizing presence of The Movies took precedence over everything else. "Shall I show you into the library, sir?"
"No, not yet. I must say hello. . . ."
Timothy had forgotten the rapid lizardlike Washington gaze when someone new enters an important drawing room. Conversations never drop a beat and all attention remains fixed on one's group and yet the newcomer is quickly registered and placed and then set to one side, until needed. The Hollywood stare was far more honest, more like that of the doe frozen in a predator's sight line. Fortunately, Timothy's face was not absolutely familiar to anyone except Frederika Sanford, Blaise's wife, who now moved swiftly through her room filled with guests, many in military uniform, some drably American, some exotically foreign, like the embassy attaches. War or peace? That was the only subject in this famous "city of conversation," or the new phrase that Frederika used when she embraced the brother-in-law that never was: "The whispering gallery has been roaring with the news that you were coming here to make a film."
Frederika was now a somewhat faded version of her original bright blond self. Timothy recalled how Caroline had always preferred her sister-in-law to her half brother Blaise. But then Frederika was a born peacemaker while Blaise liked to wage war, preferably on every front. At the far end of the room he was regrouping his forces beneath a Sargent portrait of his father. Blaise was now stout; mottled of facehad he taken to drink? He looked like one of Timothy's Boston Irish uncles. To the troops attending him, Blaise was laying down the law as befitted the publisher of the Washington Tribune, which was still the Washington newspaper despite the efforts of Cissy Patterson, whose Times-Herald, published in bumpy tandem with William Randolph Hearst, was only justat lastmaking a profit.
Cissy was standing beside Blaise. She was almost as red-faced as he, and even across the room, Timothy could hear the growl of her laughter. Cissy was a reluctant supporter of the Roosevelt Administration while Blaise had been, more often than not, a critic of the New Deal. But on September 1, Germany had invaded Poland. Two days later, England and France had declared war on the aggressor; and the New Deal was history. There was now only one issue: should the United States cease to be neutral and help finance England in the war against Germany? Cissy was beginning to revert to her family's isolationist roots; her cousin Bertie McCormick's Chicago Tribune had already declared war on both the President and the British Empire, while her brother, Robert Patterson, creator of the New York Daily News, was, true to the family's Irish heritage, no friend to England. Timothy himself was less provincial than these great Irish publishers, possibly because, unlike the McCormick-Patterson clan, he had been brought up poor enough to have no passionate interest in anything but himself.
"Basically," he heard himself saying to Frederika, "it's got to be a pretty neutral documentary. L. B. Mayer says I have to be fair to all the people who want us in the war and to all the ones who don't. I'm not to offend a single ticket-buyer."
"What do you want?" Frederika's practiced vague stare suddenly focused on Timothy as he took a glass of ginger ale from a passing waiter.
"I'm neutral. Pretty much," he added.
"Like America!" Frederika laughed. "Come say hello to Blaise. He's delighted you're making this film. Just as long as you do it entirely his way."
"He changes from day to day. We've got three thousand English people here in town, all working out of the embassy."
"To get us into the war?"
"Splendid party, Mrs. Sanford!" A huge, dark-haired, ruddy-faced Englishman complimented his hostess while giving Timothy the swift Washington lizard's gaze that asked two simultaneous questions: Who are you? Can I use you?
Frederika introduced Timothy to John Foster. "He's . . . what at the embassy?"
From the Audio Cassette edition.