cover image Hollywood: A Novel of America in the 1920s

Hollywood: A Novel of America in the 1920s

Gore Vidal. Random House (NY), $19.95 (437pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57659-6

In the sixth of Vidal's historic novels about Aaron Burr and his descendants, the author has come a long way from Burr , the first in the series, both in time span--the focus here is on the years between 1917 and 1924--and quality. His imagination seems to flag as he draws closer to the present, and he delivers a surprisingly dry recitation of the facts and circumstances of history. Each of the novels in Vidal's U.S. saga has become more extravagantly peopled with historical personages. Presidents Harding, Wilson and Coolidge, and Hollywood stars Fairbanks, Chaplin and Mabel Norman make major appearances here. His fictional protagonists--Caroline Sanford and Burden Day, also the main characters of Empire --seem on hand merely to be injected at just the right moment to catch an intimate glimpse of the rich and famous. There is no dramatic tension in Hollywood , although there are regular flashes of Vidal's wit, in particular a scene in a steambath with Fairbanks and Chaplin waxing grandiloquent on the nature of movies. The details of the Teapot Dome scandal, the shadow presidency of Mrs. Wilson during her husband's incapacitation, and the difficulty of dealing with Harding's mistress are recounted with none of Vidal's usual relish. Although his writing continues to be clear and elegant, in Hollywood , he has failed to produce a compelling story. First serial to Washingtonian; BOMC featured alternate. (Feb.)