Library Book of the Week

(This isn’t going to seem like a book review, but it’ll get there.)

For one of the birthdays in my early twenties — I know it wasn’t when I turned 21, so perhaps 20 or 22 or 23 — my future husband took me for a morning in the museum and then presented me with lots of little presents: a bottle of my favorite moisturizer, treats from one of my favorite places, and a videotape.

The videotape was of Bob Guccione‘s production of Caligula.

(Yes, that sucking sound you heard was the remaining decency of this blog fleeing for its life.)

Throughout my high school years, I was a voracious reader of anything and (almost) everything of Gore Vidal’s.  I haven’t read anything from him in more than ten years, and I keep meaning to, because I thought he was a pretty good stylist and I want to see if my taste at age sixteen (I thought Myra Breckinridge was hilarious) matches my current taste (I think Mark Helprin and Nicholson Baker are the two best living American writers).

So, Vidal wrote the screenplay for the Caligula movie, and I was a little bit obsessed with the whole idea.  Why did Gore Vidal ever agree to do a movie with Guccione?  Why did Helen Mirren (!!) and Sir John Gielgud (!!!) agree to be in this movie?  (To be honest, I never wondered why Malcolm McDowell or Peter O’Toole agreed to be in the movie.)  On an abstract level, I wanted to know how bad the movie was.

On an abstract level.

But, of course, there I was with the videotape, probably purchased because my future husband was tired of hearing me talk about some movie I’d never seen, and (as I recall) he forced me to watch it without any breaks, though I think he may have relented at a point or two to allow me to cover my eyes.  Needless to say, the movie is everything I thought it would be and more: bad writing, bad acting, scenes with great actors having a dialogue spliced together with some Penthouse Pets doing things I really didn’t ever want to know about.

I do recommend this review, if only for the following quotes: “Personally, the only real problem I have with the movie is that it doesn’t really build any character development” and “It’s a wonderful film with a great message, and people just don’t take the time to understand it.”

I’d also like to add the following quote, of my own, which I believe I say every time I have a story about my husband: “Yes, I still agreed to marry him.”

Anyway, the only reason I ever saw that movie is because of Gore Vidal.  Which is perhaps why I haven’t read a book of his in over a decade.

But I also have Gore Vidal to thank for introducing me to Louis Auchincloss.  I always had that vague “Isn’t Auchincloss some distant cousin-by-marriage to Vidal” impression, and I kept putting off reading Auchincloss because I felt I should read some more Edith Wharton before I read him.  But then he died, and there was a whole display of his books in the library, and I couldn’t very well say no to him, so I took the shortest book in the pile, and it was this one.

Last of the Old Guard is a short novel, narrated by a partner in a law firm, telling the story of how he and his (much more talented) law partner founded their firm in the late 1800s, managed work and family with varying degrees of success, and fought against a tide of change at the end of their lives and careers.  Is it the best book I’ve ever read?  No.  Was it hard to put down?  Yes!

Let’s put it this way: if you’d like a much-easier-to-read Henry James, except with characters inhabiting the world of Edith Wharton and not Americans in exile, then Auchincloss is the writer for you.  Did you read Cheerful Money or The Big House and feel that there weren’t enough Wasps?  Me too!  Join me as I raid the closed stacks for everything Auchincloss ever wrote!  (Trust me, none of that is sarcastic.  I could watch movies like The Winslow Boy all day long.)


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