Gore Vidal, the Author We All Want to Be
This is not entirely surprising. A lot of very good writers knew Vidal and had strong opinions about him one way or another, and his life gives you lots of material no matter what your editorial slant.
My youthful perspective is that Vidal was the author we all secretly want to be. In a way he might have been the last real “man of American letters,” or at least the last who lived the old-fashioned stereotype of a socially successful, politically-aware, witty, flamboyant, and occasionally infuriating purveyor of well-worded opinions.
Vidal drank, had affairs with both men and women, made political friends and enemies, ran for office twice (and lost both times), and got into fights on television. He headbutted Norman Mailer. He wrote justly-praised historical novels and he indulged in wild historical conspiracy theories. He exchanged letters with Timothy McVeigh after the latter was imprisoned for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing. He offended almost everyone at one point or another, but they still read his essays.
Anyone who goes into writing has at least some vague idea of being true to him/herself, or finding the real self, or some such nonsense. Writers like Gore Vidal make me feel better because they are so clearly themselves, often to a self-involved and downright obnoxious point.
Can you be a writer like Vidal without that self-involvement, and the flamboyant life it inevitably generates?
Maybe. But I hope, for the sake of our entertainment and obituary writers everywhere, that we see another generation of American writer-socialites like Gore Vidal.
And someday I hope to see Gore Vidal appear as a minor side character in a historical novel about the American 20th century. It would be only fitting.