It took great courage on the part of Mr. Vidal to publish, in 1948, “The City and the Pillar.” It could easily have ended his career, but thankfully it launched one of the great literary careers of the 20th century. The subject of homosexuality is dealt with head on. Mr. Vidal’s style is hard, terse, and demanding. It follows the life of Jim Willard, a young, good-looking athlete, from a small town in Virginia, where he falls in love with his best friend Bob, who just graduated high school and is getting ready to leave the town to join the Merchant Marines and to be a sailor. Just before leaving they travel to a cabin in the woods, beside a river, to spend the weekend. They make love to each other, an experience of such joy to Jim that when he graduates from high school the next year he also leaves the town in the hope of finding his one true love, Bob. He joins the merchant marines, but has no luck in finding Bob.
In his hopeless longing for Bob, Jim finds himself living in Hollywood, New York, New Orleans, joining the army. He becomes well connected in the rich gay communities of New York and Hollywood and lives with celebrities and writers that the general public has no idea are gay. It is through this journey that Mr. Vidal paints a vivid portrait of the gay lifestyle that to many readers at the time must of been shocking.
This book is important on many levels: first, the writing is superb, and the characters unforgettable. Second, it presents the human side and needs that all people, whether gay, or straight, or bisexual, feel and want out of life. It is not sentimental in the least, but its message is clear and straight forward. Thirdly, Mr. Vidal, James Baldwin, Capote, and other notable gay and lesbian artists of this era opened the door to a world too often looked upon from the outside and never truly understood. The world owes all these artists a round of applause.