Vidal, Gore. “Myra Breckinridge”, Bantam, 1968.
A Satiric Look at Hollywood
In thinking about the literature of America in the late 1960’s, I have decided that it was a time for satire with two of the most popular satires being published. Both Gore Vidal’s “Myra Breckenridge” and Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint were way ahead of their times and “Myra” was so politically incorrect in so many ways that I doubt it would stand a chance of being published today. It is risky and risqué and some even considered it pornographic. Myra is a transsexual who had once been Myron who she now refers to as her deceased husband. She goes to Hollywood to claim her share of a prosperous acting academy which rightfully belongs to her but when she arrives there, she discovers success as a teacher and decides to stay a while.
Vidal had tremendous literary output and was read by many. This was his eleventh book and while nowhere near his best writing, this is the one that many will remember him for. Here the serious Vidal became frivolous and this is certainly not his best writing. Readers and critics are divided on the quality of the book but no matter—it made money. Vidal sends us some serious messages hidden in his satire especially when he deals with sexuality, psychology and the human condition. While the book appears to be one dimensional on the surface, it actually has depth and perceptiveness. “Myra Breckenridge” is a fun read and it not politically correct but it is Vidal’s way of having fun (and being paid to do so). He seems to have something to say about every issue and how convenient that he has Myra to do it for him.
Myra goes to collect her inheritance in Hollywood that her “late husband Myron left to her” and of course, no one knows that she is actually Myron but when she arrives she has to deal with Buck Loner who stands between her and her inheritance. She believes it will all be ok because she is the New American Woman, desired by every man but no one can have her. She exudes self-confidence and she knows how to deal with men—after all, she was one. She is a pro at manipulating people and getting them to do what she wants them to do. There is just one little problem that could wreck her world and she is not about to let anyone know what it is. She is a force to be dealt with if there is someone who can dare try.
The book is written in the form of Myra’s diary and since she writes the entries, we only see things from her point of view. It seems to me that Vidal created her to be the center of her universe and everyone else pales next to her. The only real purpose for the other characters is to play Myra’s games. She considers herself to be divine and (move over, Bette Midler [although some say that there is a little Myra in the Divine Miss M]) and unique (and in the 60’s she was).
Some say that Vidal wrote this as a way to look at the nature of sexuality while others claim that his purpose in writing this book was to deal with Hollywood’s passion for stardom. If either of these are true, neither works because Myra really only has one ambition and that is to bring the two sexes together in order to create a new one. In this way, the population could be reduced and the happiness of all would increase. In my opinion, the book is simply fun and full of laughs. It shows us that it is not always necessary to have a theory.
- Posted in: GLBT fiction