Monday, July 22, 2013

Empire by Gore Vidal (1987)

Bluntly, especially for someone writing in 1987, Gore Vidal is a big pussy when it comes to writing about sex.  If Empire had been written by John Jakes or Judith Krantz, Caroline Sanford would have not only fucked William Randolph Hearst and John Hay, she probably would have fucked her half-brother Blaise, and THEN fucked him over.  As it was, she only slept with the Representative Jim Day from an unnamed state (who looks like Jimmy Stewart from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in my head), and that was really, really boring.  Quite frankly, Blaise should have been buggered by Jim Day as well - instead, he just admires him in the shower (where Vidal implies that Jim has a big dick).  I'm not hating the book (a little maybe) but I do think for something written in the steamy, sexy 80s, there could have been a little more sex.  Caroline and Blaise Sanford are only in their early 20s; they act like their are in their 40s (or more likely Vidal's age, which was probably sixties).  Shouldn't twenty-somethings be bumping like bunnies?

So Blaise and Jim do have sex, at least once, but it's off camera and only alluded to.  Sheesh.

I did a little more research on this series.  I had mixed this book up, apparently, with another book I read about Clover Adams.  I now have no idea what that other novel was - I read it long long long ago in a galaxy far away -- but I know more about this "Narratives of Empire" series.  The first book in the series was Washington D.C. ; it's set later than Empire, and features Blaise and Jim.  Do they have sex in that book?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  The series chronologically (which in not the order in which it was written) begins with Burr, continues on through Lincoln (I've read most of that book), 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington D.C., and finally The Golden Age.

I do want to, at some point in my reading life, read the rest of this series.

"When history starts to move underneath you, you'd better figure how you're going to ride it, or you'll fall off."

"There is nothing so boring as people who are always bored." Said by Mrs. Jack Astor (who, accordingly to Wikipedia, eventually divorced her Astor husband and moved to England in 1909, where she married into the British aristocracy).

"The republic is dead; long live the empire."  Henry Adams says this towards the end of Empire.

EmpireEmpire by Gore Vidal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Towards the end of the book, Gore Vidal's fictionalized Henry Adams says, "The republic is dead; long live the empire" which is a succinct way of summing up the last 100 years of American policy; Vidal fictionally traces the rise of the American Empire and the imperial presidency, especially how the media can create not only a war, but a president as well.  History has been far kinder to Theodore Roosevelt (and Taft, too, actually) than Gore Vidal was to them in Empire.  The line is also reminds me of something Cicero might have said 2,000 years ago, which I suppose is the point.  There is quite a bit going on in this wonderfully, dense, rich books. It's occasionally bitchy, sometimes pointed, and contains a cast of characters, historically based or otherwise, that only occasionally come across as cardboard characters.  The sex is in this awful - particularly since it was written in the heyday of Judith Krantz and John Jakes, you'd think Vidal could have spiced it up just a bit; that's certainly when the characters feel like paperdolls in Edwardian dress.  But when history is happening, when the Republic is fading, that's when Henry Adams and John Hay and Alice Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst feel the most alive; to be trite, it's like you were there (or at the very least Gore Vidal).  This book probably isn't for everyone (you're going to need at least a partial understanding of American History, or be prepared to wikipedia much) but it's quite good.

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