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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read, if only for the historical significance.
Maybe it is because I was denied reading "The City and the Pillar" for fifteen years, but I really enjoyed this. I fully appeciated the era in which the book was written and the consequences suffered by Vidal, who had to give up novel-writing for a decade after the publication of novel, which portrayed The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name. This was considered rank...
Published on March 27, 2005 by Drake-by-the-Lake

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43 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Historically Significant; Literarily Weak
Originally published in 1948, THE CITY AND THE PILLAR is generally considered the first mainstream American novel to place gay men and their lives and loves at dead center of the story. As such, it receives a tremendous amount of attention from critics and historians. Still, for all the stir it caused at the time (most newspapers wouldn't review or advertise it and many...
Published on February 21, 2004 by Gary F. Taylor


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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The unrealistic pursuit of an unattainable ideal, October 28, 2006
By 
This review is from: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)
When it was published in 1948 (it would be eight years until Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room" appeared), "The City and the Pillar" was far ahead of its time in its unapologetic portrayal of its "straight-acting," exclusively homosexual protagonist. Yet it's not simply a gay novel; at its core, the novel describes the obsessive pursuit of one's first love. An intense relationship between two youths, Jim Willard and his best friend Bob Ford, turns from emotional to physical for one fleeting night, and the experience leaves Jim in the thrall of an infatuation.

When Bob leaves the Southern town of his childhood for a career at sea, Jim's remembrance of their affair transforms it into a far more romantic ideal than its actuality would allow. Jim travels the ports of America hoping to find Bob and rekindle their love; his adventures take him through the various gay urban oases of America, from Hollywood to New Orleans to New York. With an understanding of others that often prevents him from understanding himself, Jim describes the desperate plight he shares with his friends and lovers: "I don't think he knows what he wants, like the rest of us."

The novel's prose is intentionally sparse, even "flat" (the word used by Vidal), and it lacks the satirical bite and dry wit of the author's other work. Because it was written sixty years ago, it is of significant historical interest, but (alas) the version in print is the edition revised by Vidal in 1965, when he "altered the last chapter considerably [and] rewrote the entire book."

I agree with Vidal that the new ending is a better one (although it too closely echoes "Myra Breckinridge"); nevertheless, we have in our hands not a post-War novel far ahead of its time but a gay bildungsroman hardly exceptional for the 1960s. Fortunately, what Vidal left intact in his revision was the character of Jim himself--surely one of the most tragic antiheroes in modern American literature, a man whose outward simplicity belies a profound understanding of the world around him. What ultimately dooms Jim is not his sexual awakening but his unrealistic pursuit of an unattainable ideal.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars HE GETS HIS MAN IN THE END -- LITERALLY, September 2, 2012
This review is from: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)
This review is for: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)

There is already a review posted by GTF with which I found much agreement, but I think the reviewer did not go far enough and made one error.

Not only is the main character and his lover not interesting as people, as the reviewer justly claims, they are worse than dull: they both are shallow, particularly the protagonist, Jim Willard. Jim Willard becomes the lover of a famous actor and a writer, but what value does Jim Willard offer these men besides his sexual service? Nothing. Jim's main attraction for most of the characters in this novel is sexual. Jim does not get along with most of the other characters in the novel because they are not physically like his teenage dream-idol, Bob Ford. Others who are gay might view Jim as "trade," but aside from Jim's beauty and Jim's own judgments about others' physical appeal, all Jim has going for him is money-making tennis skills. Insofar as Bob Ford is concerned, his character is shallow for the reason that the reader encounters him at the beginning of the novel and then at the end of the novel only -- with no appearance in between. And to make it even less palatable for the reader, as time passes (seven years) between Jim's first sexual encounter with Bob Ford and his last (at the very end of the novel), the reader discovers Jim's "romantic attitude" has nothing to do with who Bob Ford is as a person, what courage he might have, what intelligence, what patience or compassion -- no. Jim's romance with Bob has all to do with how hot Bob Ford is for him physically!

Something is very empty, cynical, reductive and dead at the core of this novel, because it denies emotional and spiritual values between human beings, between men (even between man and woman), asserting only physical attraction as the only mechanism that binds people together. (Famous diarist Anais Nin, a friend of Gore's at the time this novel was being written, did not like this novel and particularly did not like Gore's characterization of Anais Nin who is a female character in this piece of fiction. Nin wrote in her diary that Gore Vidal's writing abilities here were cheap and superficial.)

And like, GTF wrote in his review earlier, this novel is TEDIOUS! The arc from the first igniting of affection in Jim for Bob to the culmination of Jim's search and conquest of Bob at the conclusion is totally circuitous, inefficacious and often at cross-purposes. This novel really could have been a short story since all Jim had to do to find Bob was contact Bob's parents and find out where he was stationed or where he was living. The roundabout search-approach Gore Vidal sets his Jim-character to for seeking out his great love of all time doesn't add up, isn't sensible, and no reason is ever provided as to why the obvious solution wasn't possible at the start.

The error I feel the earlier reviewer makes is solely that this novel belongs to a certain time-period, that it is somehow dated, and that gay encounters aren't conducted any more today in the manner Gore Vidal portrayed them in 1948. I wholly beg to differ. Not everybody lives in the Castro of San Francisco, California circa 2012. There are plenty of "down-low" types to be found all across America, along with the hypocrisy and attempts at "passing for straight." That's why this novel is still relevant today -- in terms of portraying gay types of a very specific sort. Even the references to Stalin, Trotskyites and Communism aren't dated. We have a Communist president. We still have Jews posing as white race actors. Most of the Republican Party today consists of Trotskyites. The Democrats pretty much are all Communistic or communitarians. Communism today exists; it just goes by another name: Globalism and/or International Jewry and/or Communitarianism.

As a historical document, this novel is very prescient.

I will say it was the ending of this novel that was the most clever thing and the most surprising thing about it. Reading this novel was largely, however, a masochistic (tedious and frustrating) experience -- with a satisfying, final, sadistic punch, however unethical. The reader finally doesn't feel victimized by Gore Vidal's scheme for this novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful plot, few and simple words that say much., April 15, 2012
By 
Dennis2468 "Dennis2468" (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)
Gore Vidal writes with great wit and perfect timing. I laughed often, and often re-read whole paragraphs or pages, savoring each sentence. The story is straightforward and the plot was complex enough to keep me guessing, yet very well tied together. I was gripped, felt present in every scene, and loved the spare and simple prose.

Other reviewers have correctly described the writing style as "spare". Not all writers do great job with subtle understatement, and not all readers respond to that style of writing. Vidal fans might love this book as an example of the writer's earliest style of prose. As a first-time reader of Vidal (finally!), I think this book is a masterpiece. It far outshines almost any other work of fiction I can think of whose main character is a gay man, and -- from reading the other reviews -- I can see that it has a wide appeal. Some -- not all -- of its themes are universal.

Dated? The book is set in the years following 1940. Several other reviewers found the plot boring or dated, stereotypical with undeveloped characters, and containing prose not erudite or "literary" enough. Seeing such complaints makes me understand that not all readers will enjoy this book, and that some could find that the story -- a young man coming to terms with his romantic and sexual attractions to men -- "has been done before". Except that in 1948, it largely hadn't. Thousands of gay-themed works of fiction have been published since then, but precious few are still being sought out by a wide audience of readers. Like a classic painting, this book is the real article, one of the original works. For those who appreciate, it is very highly enjoyable read.

The story takes place in a stunning variety of locations and settings. Vidal, being only 20 or 21 when he wrote this book, must have possessed a wisdom far beyond his tender years. The story begins in his final year of high school but moves forward on board a merchant marine ship, in Hollywood as a tennis coach to movie stars, on to Merida where he becomes a hanger-on to a wealthy woman wintering in the Yucatan, then into military service in the World War II and beyond. The writer sure knew his history even at that young age.

It seems a waste that Vidal was apparently blacklisted for several years after publishing this work. His eventual success is easy to understand, though I have read that his later works suffer from an over-wrought, too-erudite style of writing. I'm about to find out for myself, having so thoroughly enjoyed this book, The City and the Pillar. I'm glad I bought this on Amazon.

I recommend to those readers who preview books before buying, and who do not like Chapter One, to preview well into Chapter Two before giving up. You will see early signs of this author's capacity to write great fiction. I hope he has not gotten all over-wrought and excessively erudite in his later works.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The City and the Pillar, November 19, 2002
By 
Rekkusha (((Alexa, Virgina))) - See all my reviews
I always have high expectations for books that broke the rules- particularly those that make their writers suffer needlessly due to society's close-minded bigotry. So I was rather taken by the *concept* of Gore Vidal's 1948 novel "The City and the Pillar," but ultimately I found it wanting. In fact, despite the budding romances of handsome young atheletes and showy movie stars, it ended up as quite a dry read. Vidal is dispassionate as he relates young Jim Willard's youthful misadventures of love and lust while searching for his high school crush, who he still holds a flame for years after a timid sexual tryst on a camping trip. His characters seem to me a bit two-dimensional and undeveloped, lacking any basis for their shallow and arid personalities- no one is born acting how they do when they mature, but when the reader is presented with only the face and there are no attempts to divulge the motivations they quickly get irked. The only character whom Vidal seems to make any token attempt to reveal to us is Maria Verlain; even more attentions are given to her than to the protagonist. He describes Maria's many facets with more scrutiny than he'd allow any of Jim's lovers throughout the novel. Why is it Vidal can't manage to give more depth to the shallow Shaw, or spare a few words to tell us the source of the pessimist-masochist Sullivan's eternal grief? Overall, the novel isn't worth analysis so as to find the means to praise it. Daring, yes, but few other endearing attributes show their face in Vidal's sparse, pruned sentences that lack the vitality that is emblazoned upon every page of a good book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An early classic - rediscovered, August 17, 2003
In the world of arts and letters euphemisms such as "trail blazing" and "groundbreaking" are too often bandied about by over reaching publicists and press agents. In the case of Gore Vidal's gay-lit classic "The City and the Pillar" (which is being reissued this December by Vintage International), these phrases seem like understatements.

Reading this novel again after more then twenty years, I was moved by the clarity and brevity of the prose. Vidal doesn't mince words, but rather cuts to the heart of the matter - Jim Willard is in love with Bob Ford. What bigns as simple boyhood buggery, develops into an all consuming passion, sadly unrequited and ultimately tragic.
By tackling a subject considered taboo, Vidal exposed various aspects of the homosexual psyche and the underground gay community as they existed in the 1940s. Readers will note the influence this once shocking work has had on a number of contemporary writers. Vidal remains both a maverick and literary hero.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Prescient Look Back, December 1, 2008
This review is from: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)
Vidal was 20 when he wrote this coming-of-age novel, set in a post-war America when the word homosexual conjured netherworlds of perversion and depravity. The feat here isn't the author's frankness or even the skill he uses to convey the character's self-lacerating observations(and what a bunch!). Maybe déjà vu is the word for it: Vidal's hero grows in increments until what emerges is a clear-eyed, honest look at one man coming to terms, a coming out whose hills and valleys remains emotionally indistinguishable from the lives of gay men today.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Expected, November 3, 2013
By 
M. Buzalka (cleveland, oh usa) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)
After finishing and very much enjoying this edition of The City and the Pillar I was disappointed to find out that it is actually a rewritten version (from 1965) of Gore Vidal's original 1948 novel. That's unfortunate, as one of the things that most interested me was its portrayal of the gay underground of the immediate post-World-War-II world written at that time. A retrospective from more than 15 years later by an author with more than 15 years of intervening experience is not the same thing, however well it may be written.

That being said, if this is anything like the 1948 original, I can imagine how shocking to the American reading public that must have been. Unlike Truman Capote's debut novel about a gay coming of age (Other Voices, Other Rooms), which was published at almost the same time, The City and the Pillar was highly controversial. Of course, Capote's novel was a lot more oblique and dealt with a much younger character who for most of the novel has a crush on a (admittedly tomboyish) girl. A better gauge is Reflections in a Golden Eye, a novel by Carson McCullers published just before the war which also dealt with male homosexual desires and which met quite a bit of backlash. But McCullers was a young woman and therefore inoculated against autobiographical implications; Vidal, obviously, was not nor did he shy away from them.

That makes City and Pillar courageous if professionally suicidal, but is it a good book? Yes, I think it is. Vidal's protagonist is a fascinatingly ambivalent character, selfish, deluded, narcissistic and at times vicious (especially at the end, and most especially at the end of the original version). The world Vidal paints of the Hollywood and New York undergrounds and the facades gay men had to put on are intrinsically interesting even to a straight male like myself. It reminded me of the similar dissimulations Jews had to go through as portrayed in the contemporaneous film Gentlemen's Agreement (which, coincidentally, was released almost at the same time City and Pillar was published). Apparently, a lot of hidden worlds were starting to bubble to the surface in 1948 America.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated, in a good way: A fast read about gay life before Stonewall for those who recognized their gayness and situation, April 7, 2013
This review is from: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)
At the April 2013 meeting, the reading group met at The LGBT Center in NYC to discuss "The City and the Pillar, the career-defining novel by Gore Vidal.

Everyone agreed that this was a fast, easy read, almost more like a slightly long novella than a novel, centering on a few recurring characters. Vidal described the language as "journalistic" but we thought it might be a bit spartan. We liked the characters who recognize themselves as clearly gay (without too much coming-out drama or self hatred) and the unambiguous gay sex. The main character, Jim, doesn't seem too smart but is a clear type. Much of the Freudian psychology, which was sort of new at the time, is now pretty obvious in the novel.

Most of the readers liked the novel but there were some quibbles. For some, the writing doesn't seem authentic, the characters all seem slightly artificial. It is the story, after all, of an awfully good-looking blond athlete who happens to land in all the right places: Hollywood, New York, the army, and then California again before returning to NYC to be recognized for his beauty and natural masculinity. Vidal has an agenda and he's always nudging you to "get it." Sometimes it's less a novel than a social or political tract.

Then there's the issue of the ending. Vidal was brave to publish it in 1948 but changed the ending (from a murder to a rape) when the novel was re-published in 1969. It's hard to talk about Vidal's novel without talking about him. Our discussion included a lot of discussion about Gore Vidal's life, his early tragic affair with Jimmy Trimble, his life-long non-sexual partner Howard Austen (né Auster), his politics, his feuds with Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley, Jr., as well as his constant wit and humor and his ability to express his strong opinions on TV.

"The City and the Pillar" is a kind of period piece, in the best of all possible ways. It captures the time when it was written without nostalgia or sentimentality and tells us how people lived and thought and loved. It's a valuable document, but has to be recognized as dated. It's an auspicious start for Vidal's career.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good reading but left me wanting, July 23, 2014
By 
ronaldz72 (Anderson, IN) - See all my reviews
Interesting classic about gay love. Fairly well written although I found some of the character and story development lacking. For example, the coming-of-act act between Jim and Bob, which set the premise for the entire book, was given very little space. Also, I didn't feel enough of Maria's character was developed to have a sense of who she really was. And the ending was tragic and very abrupt; left me hanging.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Journey, October 16, 2014
By 
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This review is from: The City and the Pillar: A Novel (Paperback)
I was apprehensive to read this book. All I have heard, and reviews read, the list of gay novels "to read" and it being almost always toward the top, I was sure it was built up to high not to be top heavy, and come crashing down around my preconceived notions. Finding the nerve, happily found I was wrong. It does deserve to be one in the league of classics. Some of much larger, epic books were put to shame at how this author said so much with very little. Leaving the reader to fill in what might of been.

The bang of a beginning and then the long wait for whats perceived, in naive hopeful youth, to eventually come true and the journey it takes this person on. This journey was taken by Jim an attractive Tennis player, in last year of high school, who's boyhood crush, Bob leaves with a half promise to be reunited. Bob a year older, and just graduated, plans to head off to sea but keep in touch till Jim graduates. Then they can begin their life, their travels together. Becoming ship hands. Taking them, to a wonderful life.

Confused from the onset of their one last weekend together before Bob leaves. They talk, drink, swim nude, wrestle, bond, then the inevitable happens, at an old shack a ways out in the Virginia woods. Cementing in Jim's mind what is sure to come, is sure he wants. And whatever happens in between, Jim is willing to live through and bide his time till he and Bob are once again in each others lives and hopefully, arms. What a intense, crazy, horrible, wonderful, compromising, insightful, journey Jim lives out.

Never considering himself gay or Queer, Jim goes through the motions and goes where life takes him. Seemingly hiding and running but always on the lookout to find Bob. Knowing somehow that waiting long enough will have its payoff. And for a moment he is right. But as most of us know the payoff in life is rarely what is expected or even wanted. And in Jim's coming of age he realizes his greatest fears about himself and others and especially the world he will never find, nor fit in. And what about Bob. The agonizing revelations and trauma inflicted will be the end of it all.

Although I knew what I was getting into, I had never expected to get, what I got.
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The City and the Pillar: A Novel
The City and the Pillar: A Novel by Gore Vidal (Paperback - December 2, 2003)
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