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The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal

The City and the Pillar (1948)

by Gore Vidal

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Not one of my favorites by Vidal, and can [today] seem rather outdated, but is still important as the groundbreaking first novel featuring "masculine" homosexuals. This is the book that effectively got Vidal blacklisted for several years. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
I'm honestly not entirely sure what I thought of this story of a young man navigating the homosexual subculture of New York and Hollywood in the forties. I didn't care much for the style, though Vidal does get character sketches across pretty adroitly. I didn't find any of the characters particularly interesting, but the story was still compelling somehow. The whole thing is quite bleak without being depressing exactly, and there seems to be this suggestion that no two human beings ever have any chance of connecting because they will never be honest enough with themselves to do so. Which, meh. ( )
  lycomayflower | May 2, 2014 |
I liked this book. The straightforward prose is misleadingly simple, and hides a interesting structure and some good character development. Although Jim is our protagonist, we never get a really good sense of him as a character, and I think that is deliberate. Instead, the side characters are filled with details and dimensions that end up teaching us about Jim.

[full review here: http://spacebeer.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-city-and-pillar-by-gore-vidal-1948.htm... ] ( )
  kristykay22 | Nov 15, 2012 |
t seems almost presumptuous writing a review of a book that has more than proved its worth, published in in 1948 and never out of print, City and the Pillar is a landmark book. Written by a twenty one year old Gore Vidal who was already making a reputation with what was the first WWII novel, it cause an uproar on its publication.

The story is centred on the young Jim Willard, who as he is about to enter his last year of high school is in love with his best friend Bob, one year his senior. the expectation is that Bob will go onto college, and Jim will join him in a year, but at the last minute Bob reveals that he is going to sea. On the eve of Bob's departure Jim seduces the heterosexual Bob. Jim then lives in the hopes of reuniting with Bob and continuing their lives together, and so one year later he follows Bob to sea and spends the next ten years in his search for his friend.

During that time Jim follows an adventurous life. After a short time at sea he finds himself in Hollywood where is good looks and manly attributes win him favour with the famous. He travels, has various relationships, enlists when the US enters the war, but all the time his infatuation with Bob hangs over him and prevents him forming any lasting attachments.

Jim is to all outward appearances the typical all-American boy, athletic and handsome, there is nothing effeminate about him, and he does not even consider himself initially as homosexual, he is in fact fairly ignorant about such matters (although the subsequent years will educate him). Jim is far from the typical fictional hero, while likeable he is a little naive, not overly bright, he may not understand himself but is often perceptive in his understanding of others, but it is perhaps in his very ordinariness that his appeal lies, and, maybe like some of us, in his hanging onto his childhood dream.

The City and the Pillar is perceptive and informative, providing an insight into the difficulties of the life of the homosexual in the mid-twentieth century, including the difficulty of recognising and accepting ones own inclinations. But is is also and engrossing read, never mawkish or sentimental, one hopes that Jim will achieve his goal, but it seems the odds are against him, and no one can come out a winner.

This 1997 edition includes an interesting preface by the author written in 1993. ( )
  presto | Apr 23, 2012 |
There is some question whether the analysis of the success or failure of a novel should take into account the times in which it was written. A novel that was ground-breaking and earth-shattering in its time may only be a decent read now. Is it still great for what it did in the past? Or should it only be evaluated for what it is today?

Such is the struggle with The City and the Pillar, Gore Vidal’s story of a young man’s discovery of himself as a gay individual. There is no doubt that, in the 40’s, this was a shocking story. Its frank discussions of sex between men (well, not that frank in today’s culture, but definitely not unapologetic) was not exactly what people were used to hearing about back then. However, today most readers will no longer be shocked. It will not be a shock that so many leading men in Hollywood are gay, it will not be a shock that there is a gay lifestyle in New York, it will not be a shock that there is a gay sub-culture in the armed forces, and it will not be a shock that there are a lot of gay people out there.

So, to stand the test of time, this novel has to be evaluated on the same criteria used to determine if any novel is good – does this tell a compelling story about compelling people?

And the answer is no and yes. Without the shock value, the first part of this novel struggles under Gore Vidal’s skill. He tells the story so simply and elegantly, that the modern reader is tempted to greet it with a “ho-hum” and the desire to move on. However, Vidal uses a device toward the end of the novel that brings the pieces together (and brings the story to its conclusion) in a way that piques the readers interest. Jim (the primary subject of the tale – the young man learning who he is), after almost dying and then finding the situation will lead to his discharge, sends out letters to all the people with whom he has been involved (in various ways). In this way, we learn their history after Jim has left, and Vidal also brings them back together for the conclusion.

All told, this means we have a well-written story that has, indeed, suffered some from changing times. The shock is not there. But a decent story still exists. ( )
  figre | Jun 23, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0349106576, Paperback)

Jim Willard, former high-school athlete and clean-cut boy-next-door-, is haunted by the memory of a romanctic adolescent encounter with his friend Bob Ford. As Jim pursues his first love, in awe of the very same masculinity he possesses himself, his progresss through the secret gay world of 1940's America unveils surreptitious Hollywood affairs, the hidden life of the military in the Second World War and the underworld bar culture of New York City. With the publication of his daring thrid novel The City and the Pillar in 1948, Gore Vidal shocked the American public, which has just begun to hail him as their newest and brightest young writer. It remains not only an authentic and profoundly importatnt social document but also a serious exploration of the nature of idealistic love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In their teens Jim Willard and Bob Ford share a moment of sexual intimacy. Jim will spend later years searching for the recreation of that moment. When the opportunity occurs, it explodes with violence and pain.

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