Had this been a movie, I think Gore Vidal would have to go into hiding like Salman Rushdie. Like Rushdie, Vidal puts some words together that the religious-minded do not think appropriate. But in Christian society, it is Hollywood and the motion picture that is the arbiter of culture, not the written word. I can’t even recall a minor furor over the publication of this–let’s not mince words–quite sacrilegious novel. If the Christians thought Monty Python’s Life of Brian heretical, they should take a load of this.
The unfortunate thing is it’s not that good, which may be the other reason it didn’t get any press. Vidal tries hard to incorporate both postmodernism, science fiction (cyberpunk even), and satire in the same book, yet his style of delivery makes one think more of Sidney Sheldon. His extremeness–Saul as a homosexual pedophile, Timothy as the object of Saul’s affections, Jesus betraying Judas rather than the other way around–only makes points for its extreme nature rather than any insight that playing with biblical history might have illuminated. It’s not like Vidal is a stranger to mixing fiction with history (Julian is probably the most famous of his history fictions), but it just doesn’t gel here. What seemed hilarious in the first chapter quickly dulled as Vidal constantly repeated the same basic piece of satire while following a unique, but meaningless plot. Everything was there, but the puppet-master had no clothes.
Looking for a little social commentary about religion? Try Life of Brian or something by James Morrow before picking this one up.
[Finished November 1995]