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The Golden Age: A Novel Paperback – September 18, 2001
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Since 1967, when he published Washington, D.C., Gore Vidal has been assembling an artful, acidic history of the United States. The Golden Age represents the seventh and final installment of this national epic, covering the years from 1939 to 1954 (with a valedictory fast-forward, in its final pages, to the end of the millennium). As Vidal did in the earlier books, the author sticks pretty rigorously to the facts. Real-life figures--in this case, the likes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman and that ardent cold warrior Dean Acheson--do what they are recorded to have done. The author also ushers on a cast of invented characters, who are free to paddle in the historical backwash and comment upon their so-called contemporaries. It's here, of course, that fact and fiction begin to blur. But Vidal himself has often cited Tolstoy's famous jab--"History would be an excellent thing if it only were true"--and his reconstruction of FDR's wartime machinations, and the brief interval of Pax Americana, seem persuasively, even alarmingly plausible.
There's one key difference between this book and its predecessors, however. Vidal was alive and kicking in 1939, and thanks to his role as Senator Thomas Pryor Gore's grandson (and occasional seeing-eye dog), he met or at least observed many of The Golden Age's dramatis personae. This fact turns out to have a double edge. On one hand, it gives his portraits of the high and mighty an extra ounce of verisimilitude. Here (the invented) Caroline Sanford observes her old friend FDR at an informal White House mixer:
She felt for an instant that she should curtsey in the awesome presence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a figure who towered even when seated in his wheelchair. It was the head and neck that did the trick, she decided, with a professional actor's eye. The neck was especially thick while the famous head seemed half again larger than average, its thinning gray hair combed severely back from a high rounded forehead.Like all of Vidal's politicians, FDR is a more or less gifted illusionist, and The Golden Age is one more chapter in the convergence of theater and politics, of Hollywood and Washington, D.C. But the very vividness of these historical actors (in every sense of the phrase) makes the author's invented cast seem a little pale and lifeless. No matter. Even in its occasional longueurs, Vidal's concluding volume is packed with ironic insight and world-class gossip, much of it undoubtedly true. And in the surprisingly metafictional finale, he signs off with a fine display of Heraclitean fireworks, not to mention an encore appearance from his rakish progenitor Aaron Burr--which makes you wonder exactly who created whom. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Vidal's latest historical novel, which focuses on the FDR, McCarthy and Korean War periods, is like a gathering of Washington, Hollywood and New York gossip columnistsAall of whom are Vidal personae arguing American politics and culture among themselves. Vidal even turns up as a character from time to time to remind us of his own role in 20th-century art and artifice. Raised in the house of his grandfather, Oklahoma senator Thomas P. Gore, Vidal did in fact know many of the top players in the midcentury American game; thus the novel's details of unromantic affairs, political shenanigans and history-shaping manipulations are rendered believable. Narrator Walker is wonderful. She has a deep, sexy, expressive voice reminiscent of Lauren Bacall, at turns amused, ironic, sardonic, sometimes even serious. At the end, Vidal himself narrates, waxing philosophical on the end of the century and his life during that time. Because this four-tape abridgement of a 720-page book often leaps across chronology, it sometimes takes a minute for listeners to orient themselves, but it's worth the effort. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, July 24). (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
Top customer reviews
The reader may enjoy reading the novels in order, since they follow a small number of families through history, but this is not mandatory; each book can be read as a standalone story.
The Golden Age forms a somewhat bitter ending to the series and feels more like a very polished draft than a finished Vidal novel. The characters are less dimensional; like the author maybe, they seem tired and disillusioned. Even Vidal's brilliance, he was a brilliant writer, cannot hide the patterns and recipes he uses, sometimes abuses, and his monomaniacal attention to the upper classes and the power brokers, as well as on his own family's political clout, wear a bit thin in the end.
The books is still enjoyable and well written, but if you are looking for an introduction to Gore Vidal, you can do much better. We recommend, in particular, his incredible "Lincoln" to anyone who enjoys historically based fiction.
his approach to a third term, war discussions at every cocktail party, all the players in Washington when Washington was small and everyone seemed to know everyone. After a while one grows tired of all the name dropping and chatter, but Vidal was certainly at home in this world and that counts for a good deal.
This is Vidal's great theme. Over the course of his work, the main line of character development lies, not so much in Vidal's people, as in the country and then the nation itself. Vidal grew up surrounded by the men who became the ghosts that haunt our history; which is why, I suppose, that the end of this book is so fitting and so beautiful a finale to what has become a monumental work.