This is Gore Vidal’s third novel, first published in 1948. His first novel Williwaw was a solid success and is one of the very first WWII novels, even though the novel primarily takes place far away from the war. His second novel, In a Yellow Wood, was considerably less successful, perhaps as Vidal intimates in his introduction to this novel, for it not really reflecting what he wanted to write about. He also mentions that his grandfather, a former Senator, was perhaps grooming him to move into politics very soon, and this novel put that right to bed.
In this novel we begin with two high school friends, Jim and Bob, nearing the end of their schooling have a sexual encounter. Bob’s feeling are unknown in the after, but Jim becomes fixated on his and Bob becoming lovers and perhaps starting a life together later. Bob disappears into the war, and Jim is left to figure things out on his own. He tools around a little, working in a tennis club, moving to Hollywood and moving in upper-crust Queer circles. Eventually he finds himself at sea, and spends the war with a Naval career. When he returns from war, he begins to hear about Bob’s whereabouts, namely that he has married. Jim decides to look again at his original plans and decides to meet Bob once more at least.
The novel went through various endings and I won’t say how this final version ends, but there’s some real pain involved throughout. Vidal is not in this novel a wildly inventive writer or even a master of style, but he is good, and the story rings true throughout. One of the more touching elements of the novel is that he sent copies of it to two writers he admired, Christopher Isherwood and Thomas Mann (it’s weird to think about Mann still being around). Isherwood responded positively and there was a collegial friendship formed between the two writers. He never heard from Mann, but years after Mann died his notebooks were published and he discovered that Mann had written earnestly and positively about the book in his private diaries.