I read the 1965, revised edition, including an afterword and
an essay by Vidal, "Sex and the Law," taken from the 1964
Partisan Review. (The essay is, in itself, worth picking up
the book for; like the novel, it is fascinating, and still highly
relevant as it discloses how religion and 'morality' colors
the law of sex--and why that is inappropriate!)
The novel is of historical significance as it is lauded as the first
fiction book to deal directly and even explicitly with homosexuality
as a matter-of-fact condition, gay relations, and gay sex.
One consistent thought while reading this prose was how aptly
the humanity was portrayed, and how timeless the human experience
is; the book was written by Vidal in 1946 and published in 1948,
yet remains relatable today..
I should point out that the depiction of gay life is not only
'no picnic,' but there is an unsettling and vile edge to much
of the book. The ending in particular is quite unpleasant--
to say the least--and this was the revised edition. The original's
'resolution' was far more damning.
(I don't say this to prevent anyone from reading it; I actually
feel it's a poignant and truthful view of what growing up
as an outsider in one's own body--and own country--does
to us. But it is stark, and not for the feint of heart.)
The story centers on a young man from Virginia who
becomes obsessed about a relationship with a childhood friend
in the 1930s/1940s. As the primary youngster (Jim Willard)
leaves home and begins to live his life and explore his
feelings, his path alters from expectation...but the idealistic
notion of reuniting with his first love is never far from mind.
Throughout the course of several years and several
dissatisfying relationships, Jim grows up and becomes
fairly hardened by the nature of 'the gay life.' (However,
as in real life, he is hyper-critical of others while always failing
to see his culpability in these matters! I imagine there's quite
a bit of Vidal's hubris inherent there.)
I don't want to give away the plot turns, so I'll say no
more as to the details. But this is a rich, provocative,
simply--yet elegantly--written work that captures
your attention and keeps you attuned to the developments
in this troubled young man's life, and the lives of those
whose path he crosses.