Wednesday, April 12, 2017
"Lincoln, Lincoln, Bo-Bin-Coln!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
As I plowed my way through Gore Vidal's "Lincoln," two things went through my head. One was the Sondheim song, "The Ballad Of Booth," from the musical "Assassins;" the other was the realization that the kind of overly verbose, densely detailed novel that Vidal was famous for is, pretty much, a thing of the past. There are exceptions, but not many. In reading "Lincoln," I was reminded not only of the past being rendered on the printed page, but of America's literary past, today.
Because of this, reading "Lincoln" was both a compelling and frustrating experience, requiring more effort than even this reader is used to giving, having not read a Vidal book in at least twenty years. And while Vidal's rendering of Lincoln, and the questions he raises about him--like, did he suffer from epilepsy????-- are compelling, it is the figures around him who are more fascinating. His wife, Mary Todd,--what kind of madwoman was she?--the charismatic actor, John Wilkes Booth, whose interaction with men, particularly a young, gullible man, named David Herrold, made me question his sexual orientation,--was he bisexual????--and a young woman named Kate Chase, set up to be the fiery Scarlett O'Hara of the piece, but who quietly, mysteriously, and without any real explanation, peters out.
Which makes me wonder what Vidal was most interested in exploring. Lincoln's sexual orientation has been questioned over time, but it is not explored here. Ironic that Vidal, author of "Myra Breckinridge," did not even touch upon this.
He seems to be interested in the political machinations of the time, so much so that "Lincoln" often loses its prime asset--character flavor--and resorts to the academic tone of a doctoral dissertation. Today, Vidal would be accused of trying to cover too much, but back in 1984, when the novel was first published, such a writing style was still the norm. When it changed or what changed it I will wonder about for some time. When I arrive at an answer, I will let you know.
"Lincoln" should be read, especially for those who have read Vidal before. Rediscovering him is like looking into a lost literary time, when more people read books than do so today. How unfortunate. And how sad even I, an omnivorous reader, found a return to this kind of writing so demanding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Time to tackle those classics, once again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!