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Vidal, Gore

political world washington kalki

(US, 1925– )

Born in Washington to a distinguished political family, Vidal has made great play with history and politics in his fiction. His major achievement is the quintet of historical novels tracing the United States from the War of Independence to the McCarthy era, mixing real and invented characters. Outstanding amongst them are Burr (1973), which re-creates the flamboyant life and times of soldier Aaron Burr, Lincoln (1984), a gripping fictional account of his country's greatest Presidency, and Washington DC (1967), convincing in its insider's view of senatorial political intrigue. Vidal is, however, also a novelist of social satire and sexual themes, and his lighter books are most enjoyable. Myra Breckinridge (1968) is a satirical novel about movie people, with a narrator who turns out to be transsexual. Its gossipy details draw upon Vidal's period as a Hollywood scriptwriter. In Kalki (1978) a lesbian test pilot called Teddy brings about the end of the world as the unwitting agent of Kalki, a Vietnam veteran turned Messiah. Told from a deserted White House, the story ends as a plan to repopulate the world fails and the planet is left to the animals. A recent novel, The Smithsonian Institution (1998), takes one of Vidal's main interests, dead Presidents, and applies the ‘What If’ genre, mixing political asides with fantastical physics.

Norman Mailer, Christopher Isherwood, Don DeLillo  JS

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