THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)





"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Friday, March 29, 2013

BURR by Gore Vidal




 
I once read that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the erstwhile presidential candidate, said that once upon a time she had been a Democrat, even working for the election of Jimmy Carter. However, while riding on a train one day, she experienced a political conversion while reading Gore Vidal’s novel, Burr.   


According to Ms Bachmann, she became so upset with the way Vidal depicted our Founding Fathers – mocking them, she said – that she dropped the book into her lap and said to herself, “I must be a Republican.”


I don’t know if that was before or after she became a tax attorney, which I am sure is beside the point.


I have owned two copies of that novel for years, and though I have read all of Vidal’s other historical novels, somehow I had never gotten around to reading this one. But after reading how it had exerted such a great impact on Ms Bachmann’s life (and she didn't even finish the book!), I decided that I had to read it – and right away. After all, it might change my life, too.


And now I have read it.


If I had the opportunity to discuss the book with Ms Bachmann, I would try to make the following points:


1). The author is the late Gore Vidal. He always went over the top in everything he said and everything he wrote, fiction or nonfiction. Always provocative, he was very much prone to exaggeration, even when his point was a valid one.


2). The book is written from the viewpoint of Aaron Burr. The man was a self-promoting scalawag. While he was vice-president of the United States, he shot and killed the very first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel. President Thomas Jefferson later accused him of treason against the United States. He was prosecuted, but was acquitted.


Since the book tells the story from Burr’s viewpoint and presents his version of these events, it should come as no surprise that it places him in the best possible light and Hamilton and Jefferson in the worst possible lights. (Vidal even admitted in the afterword that he had a higher opinion of Jefferson than Burr did, and a lower opinion of Andrew Jackson.)


3). The book is a work of fiction – not history.

I am sorry to report that I have experienced no political conversion, no epiphany, and have reached no life-altering conclusions. None. Not yet.

Aaron Burr




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