In literature as in life, there is something to be said for indeterminacy, poetical ambiguity, and the aching, open synapses of incomplete ideas. But the essays of Gore Vidal are a break from all that, a weather station in the Alps. When the air is clear, you can see across borders; when it’s cloudy, chats by the fireside agitate and charm.
Atypically for a critic of the 20th century, Gore Vidal does not subordinate his perceptions to any school or ideology. This is why he can be trusted. For models, he looks to the worldly, progressive belletrists of the late 19th and early 20th century: Henry James, William Dean Howells, Henry Adams. Note the absence of their immediate predecessors: Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson. Vidal is not a romantic—his mind is empirical. Though he reads with a sympathetic eye, his judgments are sonorous with authority.
Though he often writes of politics, he is a critic and a satirist rather than a pundit, and much of even this work comes by way of book reviewing.
John Cotter's look at the essays of Gore Vidal for the 5-year anniversary of Open Letter Monthly.