‘Book Review’ Editor and a ‘Minor Manhattan Academic’ Get Gored

Gore Vidal
Vidal no longer punches with fists, but he does punch with words. Photo: Getty Images

Back in 1999, Fred Kaplan, the author of Gore Vidal: A Biography, told Salon that after the biography came out, he continued to enjoy a "relatively stable rapport" with his subject; the two even appeared on a panel together that year. But my, how things have changed! In her November article in the Times Book Review on the relationships between biographers and their subjects, Review editor Rachel Donadio referred to their "bitter falling-out," largely due to the fact, Kaplan claimed, that although Vidal had asked him to write the book, he got pissed when Kaplan wouldn't let him see the final manuscript, which, according to Kaplan, touched on Vidal’s “narcissistic egomania, his fascination with celebrity, his need to be in the spotlight, his evasion from serious self-analysis, that kind of thing … but not in a judgmental way.” Well, of course not. Anyway, this version of the story didn't sit well with Vidal, who responded with a letter to the editor in this week's Review so scathing, rambling, and gleefully insane that we can practically see the note that must have prefaced it, something like "IF YOU ARE GOING TO PRINT THIS PRINT IT EXACTLY LIKE I WROTE IT YOU BASTARDS." Highlights include a reference to the bio as a "sacred project" and descriptions of Kaplan as "a minor Manhattan academic" or "at best slightly below the mediocre, flailing and giggling about and telling lies," and worse. "How did I get involved with someone so undistinguished?" he asks, rhetorically.

How did I get involved with someone so undistinguished? La Donadio suggests I might have been desperate because, as she notes, quoting Kaplan, Vidal wanted “to ensure his place in the pantheon of literary and cultural stars early enough so that he could see the star twinkling in the sky.” (Only two hacks like Donadio and Kaplan would believe that such a pantheon exists.) Incidentally, this is Kaplan at his most lyrical and mendacious. Also, I should note that many star-watchers suffer from acute megalomania as well as an inability to spell or, indeed, to read.

Of course, all of his octogenerian nuttiness just ends up making Kaplan sound kinda right about whole "narcissistic egomaniac" thing, which is a shame because no one really cared for his book in the first place (The Times even said it "descends to a prose of depressing clumsiness.") But Vidal does make a few good points. For instance: We suffered an acute inability to comprehend that last sentence until we read it about four times.

The Sacred Story [NYT]

Update: The Fred Kaplan who wrote the Vidal biography is, it turns out, NOT the same Fred Kaplan who writes for Slate, as previously stated. Intel regrets the error.