It seems almost presumptuous writing a review of a book that has more than proved its worth, published in in 1948 and never out of print, City and the Pillar is a landmark book. Written by a twenty one year old Gore Vidal who was already making a reputation with what was the first WWII novel, it cause an uproar on its publication.
The story is centred on the young Jim Willard, who as he is about to enter his last year of high school is in love with his best friend Bob, one year his senior. the expectation is that Bob will go onto college, and Jim will join him in a year, but at the last minute Bob reveals that he is going to sea. On the eve of Bob's departure Jim seduces the heterosexual Bob. Jim then lives in the hopes of reuniting with Bob and continuing their lives together, and so one year later he follows Bob to sea and spends the next ten years in his search for his friend.
During that time Jim follows an adventurous life. After a short time at sea he finds himself in Hollywood where is good looks and manly attributes win him favour with the famous. He travels, has various relationships, enlists when the US enters the war, but all the time his infatuation with Bob hangs over him and prevents him forming any lasting attachments.
Jim is to all outward appearances the typical all-American boy, athletic and handsome, there is nothing effeminate about him, and he does not even consider himself initially as homosexual, he is in fact fairly ignorant about such matters (although the subsequent years will educate him). Jim is far from the typical fictional hero, while likeable he is a little naive, not overly bright, he may not understand himself but is often perceptive in his understanding of others, but it is perhaps in his very ordinariness that his appeal lies, and, maybe like some of us, in his hanging onto his childhood dream.
The City and the Pillar is perceptive and informative, providing an insight into the difficulties of the life of the homosexual in the mid-twentieth century, including the difficulty of recognising and accepting ones own inclinations. But is is also and engrossing read, never mawkish or sentimental, one hopes that Jim will achieve his goal, but it seems the odds are against him, and no one can come out a winner.
This 1997 edition includes an interesting preface by the author written in 1993.