This novel revolves around a secret which is revealed near the end. I'm not going to reveal that secret... although many of you already know what it is.
Following the recent death of Gore Vidal, I have been reading some of his works. I previously reviewed Julian. This time, I've read Myra Breckinridge - his most famous work.
As the novel begins, Myra Breckinridge is introduced as a young widow, in Hollywood both to claim an inheritance and to fulfill her destiny.
The inheritance involves an academy for upcoming actors and other performers, built by former cowboy star Buck Loner. It was built on a former orange grove co-owned with Buck's sister, and now that she and her son are dead, Myra has come to seek a financial settlement. Stalling her, Uncle Buck offers her a teaching position at the school.
Like her late husband (who was a film critic), Myra is also passionate about film - particularly the iconic movies of the 1940s - and feels that she is partly accomplishing her destiny by being in Hollywood, and by working with the young academy students. She quickly becomes one of the most popular instructors, but clashes with Uncle Buck, who would rather shelter his students from the real Hollywood rather than train them for success.
Myra is also motivated by a sense that she is uniquely qualified to usher in a new age, replacing the current male-dominated culture with female dominance, a return to the ancient ways when God was a woman. She's also obsessed with a need to avenge her late husband, who was sexually confused and unhappy. Mysteriously, all of this causes Myra to embark on a complicated scheme of psychological manipulation...
The story alternates between Myra's journals and Uncle Buck's dictated notes, with the story's tension coming from the escalating dispute between Myra and Buck, as well as suspense regarding what Myra has in mind... and the growing sense that something isn't right with Myra...
The novel was intended to be provocative, and ignited debate when published over whether it deserved literary or pornographic status due to its non-traditional sexual imagery. Today, it seems to be one of those lauded 'classics' which nobody reads.
The book is satire, and as such, it is left to the reader to discern just what the author's point was. For example, regarding Myra's preoccupation with the film culture of the 1940s - the author's intent is not really to praise those movies, but to criticize them for their depiction of traditional sexual stereotypes. On the other hand, the novel suggests that experience might cause a person to change their sexual orientation - but is this the author's belief, or just a mechanism to build an amusing story around? (It certainly goes against the popular modern theory that sexual orientation is something that one is "born with," and cannot be changed or "cured.")
Although this novel was a bestseller in its day, to me it seems curiously lightweight, a quickly-read story intended mostly to shock and then "enlighten" (i.e., expose) readers about alternate sexual practices. I found its elements of psychological manipulation and violence against women repellent, though perhaps some would excuse this by the "dark fantasy" nature of the story. The only enduring impression from the book is the over-the-top, megalomaniacal personality of Myra Breckinridge.
One major problem I had with this book is that Gore Vidal's endlessly chatty writing style seems a poor match for what is supposedly a young woman's journal. There was just too much of the author's personality projected into the novel, to the degree that I felt constantly reminded I was reading "a Gore Vidal novel".
This isn't a novel I would recommend reading.
Why review this novel for a wargaming audience? Regardless of what you might think of the subject matter, Myra Breckinridge - through this novel, the sequel, and the film (played by Raquel Welch) - is an iconic character of the 60s/70s, and could easily feature as a character (or villainess) in a Pulp-inspired scenario. So... does anyone sell a Myra Breckinridge in 28mm?
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .