on 11 June 2010
Please read this:
"The fools were in possession of the beach today. They sat watchfully beneath umbrellas, admiring the cold and radiant angels who could, they believed, exorcise the graceless shadow of the years and with firm flesh recreate youth and the sense of permanency, or its illusion. I suppose by now I know the hearts of the fools almost as well as I know my own and sometimes I am frightened when I watch their sad courtship of the treacherous angels for I see in them my own eventual fall from beloved angel to deluded monster. I too shall be old. I shuddered as I stepped over the ruined towers of a sand castle: yes, the beach was changed; I wonder, will it change again one day?"
It is impossible to write with a more elegant and concise way, and describe with a precision that it's cruel the anguish of aging and this pathetic need to find the bodies of young people as an antidote to the poison of our own death. This is an excerpt from a story, Three stratagems, which integrates this collection of short stories all written by Gore Vidal, written in the literary youth of the writer, who, in addition to his famous non-fiction, was primarily a novel writer, and not a short stories one.
Seven of these stories had been published before, but Vidal has decided to republish them when a researcher from a U.S. university, working in the archives of the writer, discovered an unknown story, precisely that which gives title to this volume. This is a story written at the same phase of the others, during a time when Vidal lived and travelled with Tennessee Williams, and is based on a childhood story of the author of A Streetcar Named Desire, spent with his grandfather. Williams has asked Vidal not to publish the story because it could be recognized by his mother, and Vidal responded to the request and ended up losing track of the tale.
There are eight notable short-stories, written in a language so beautiful that can make you cry (as in the above excerpt), capable of in half a dozen sentences to create characters and storylines and environments. The topics are diverse, some have a homosexual context, explicit or merely suggested, and it seemed to me that there may be one or other with biographical traits of the writer himself. At least in one of the stories, composed of pages from an abandoned journal, there is a very brief reference to the love of a teenager, Jimmy, whose name and the circumstances of his death in a battle of the Pacific during World War II, are coincident with memories that Gore Vidal told about his first love, in Palimpsest, the first part of his memoirs.
My favourite story is The Zenner Trophy, which tells the story of a student, about to win an award for being an extraordinary athlete, and that is expelled from a private college, for going on homosexual acts with another student. What is admirable in the tale is not so much the story itself, but rather it's very structure and how the language will reveal another truth implied. It is divided into two parts, each corresponding to a conversation. In the first one the dean discusses the case with the tutor of the student, and in the second the tutor communicates to the student his expulsion and accompanies him while he tidies up his things and prepares to leave school and go to meet with the colleague with whom he has an affair. The most extraordinary thing is that the story makes a total reversion of feelings: the student is a little indifferent to his own situation and eager to meet his classmate, while the teacher who is secretly in love with his student, is truly torn with the situation.