cover image The Essential Gore Vidal

The Essential Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal. Random House (NY), $39.95 (1280pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45746-6

Readers interested in the ""essential"" Gore Vidal would be much better off with the complete books rather than with these truncated samples prepared by the writer's authorized biographer. Four previously uncollected essays provide far too little novelty for such a long volume comprised mainly of fairly random excerpts from 12 of Vidal's 23 novels. The collection also includes the novel Myra Breckinridge in its entirety and 21 essays more usefully collected in Vidal's United States: Essays 1952-1992, itself a 1000-plus-page volume that won the NBA in 1993 and provides a far more distinguished demonstation of Vidal's wide-ranging intellect. Kaplan's dutiful selections show that Vidal's unique blend of erudition and wit is not well served by abbreviation, a limitation reinforced by Kaplan's laborious introductions, which help neither the reader nor Vidal (""Religion is another recurrent subject in Vidal's oeuvre""; the plots of Vidal's historical novels ""adhere to the laws of causality and representation associated with the realistic novel from Tom Jones to Gone With the Wind""). Try though he does to weave the pieces into a larger tapestry that reflects Vidal's long career, Kaplan actually deadens the pleasure of Vidal's prose by constant interruptions that didactically guide readers through a disparate body of work. Readers could acquire most of Vidal's best work, still in print in paperback, for the same price as this collection. (Jan.)