Christopher Hitchens’s piece on Gore Vidal in the February issue of Vanity Fair, “Vidal Loco”, is a fair if sad account of the decline into irrelevance of a once-influential and provocative American voice (Vidal was occasionally referred to as a contemporary Oscar Wilde). Before recounting the ways in which Vidal has become an unreliable and possibly slightly unhinged public intellectual, Hitchens pays Vidal sufficient respect to first relate some choice quotes from his subject that Hitchens admits were “things one wished one had said oneself”:
Of a certain mushy spiritual writer named Idries Shah: â€œThese books are a great deal harder to read than they were to write.â€
Of a paragraph by Herman Wouk: â€œThis is not at all bad, except as prose.â€
Of the late Teddy Kennedy, who was then in his low period of red-faced, engorged, and abandoned boyo-hood, that he exhibited â€œall the charm of three hundred pounds of condemned veal.â€
I discovered this piece thanks to Stephen Romei over at the Pair of Ragged Claws blog, who said no matter what one thought of Vidal, you had to love his line about Joyce Carol Oates. Intrigued, I clicked across (up? down? over?) to find out what Vidal had said about the woman whose writing output is so prodigous I am filled not with envy but concern. (Okay, a little envy.) Hitchens writes:
Who but Gore could begin a discussion by saying that the three most dispiriting words in the English language were â€œJoyce Carol Oatesâ€?
Vidal’s quote perfectly captures the enervating effect of Oates’s relentless wordsmithing. I am simply at a loss to understand how anyone could produce so many novels (more than 50) and short-story collections (30). Her latest 165-page novel took her precisely two months to write. But I am in awe of Oates for another reason, too: at the age of 71, she has fallen in love and married for the second time, following the death of her husband of 35 years less than two years ago. I’ve been widowed now for about five years and haven’t dated anyone I would come close to marrying! Now that’s the book of hers I’d like to read. Instead, she has whipped up a 400-page memoir of her grief, and has a collection of short stories dealing with loss coming out later in the year. The Wall Street Journal recently ran this interesting profile of Oates.