Breaking bad news to Gore Vidal


In 2009 (Photo: David Shankbone)

Facebook posts rarely live longer than a butterfly or moth, but fortunately this one did –  it landed on the cyberspace pages of Truthdig.  Steve Wasserman, one of my favorite editors evah, first met the author Gore Vidal in Los Angeles, 1979, while Steve was working as an editor of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Opinion section:

We took an immediate liking to each other and he began writing for me, more I always thought out of a lifelong compulsion to irritate the New York Times, which he’d long been convinced had had it in for him, than for any particular affection for the Los Angeles Times. Over the years, he became something of an Auntie Mame figure for me, giving me pep talks at Patrick Terrail’s fashionable restaurant, Ma Maison, where we would sometimes meet for dinner, encouraging me to lead as wide and as fruitful a literary life as talent and ambition would permit. We saw each other from time to time at his Hollywood home on Outpost Drive, in New York at the Plaza Hotel, and once at New Year’s in Venice at the Hotel Palace Gritti, where he complained that Susan Sontag and he were the only American writers of any distinction that Bob Silvers would publish in the pages of the New York Review of Books.

Years later, I became editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Gore’s 1999 novel, The Smithsonian Institution, was about to be published. It was a modest entertainment, a satire in the manner of Duluth and Myra Breckinridge. I thought it an occasion to publish a lengthy consideration of Gore’s overall achievement as one of America’s foremost men of letters. Artwork suitable for using on the front page was commissioned and we chose a suitable reviewer.

Here’s the bad news: the reviewer thought the book sucked, big time.  How to break the news?  Or should he let Vidal read it over his morning coffee, just like everyone else?  Read the rest of the story, which was born on Facebook, here.

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