Book 9 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 6 - January 23
Burr by Gore Vidal
Summary (via the book jacket)
Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire span the history of the United States from the Revolution to the post-World War II years. With their broad canvas and large cast of fictional and historical characters, the novels in this series present a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most worldly, knowing, and ironic observers.
Burr is a portrait of perhaps the most complex and misunderstood of the Founding Fathers. In 1804, while serving as Vice President, Aaron Burr fought a duel with his political nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and killed him. In 1807, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason. In 1833, Burr is newly married, an aging statesman considered a monster of many. Burr retains much of his political influence if not the respect of all. And he is determined to tell his own story. As his amanuensis, he chooses Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, a young New York City journalist, and together they explore both Burr's past and the continuing political intrigues of the still young United States.
This book was highly recommended by my dad as something he's read "cover to cover multiple times". So I went into it both looking forward to reading the book and also getting to see another side of my dad. He's passed books on to me before but there's something special about reading a book that someone you love loves and imagining their take on it and what exactly makes them react so strongly to it.
Okay, putting my psychology degree away for the rest of the review before I get completely off track...
It was a little slow for me at the beginning but once it got into Burr's recollections it really picked up. I'd never heard the main rumor for the premise of this book, that Aaron Burr secretly fathered Martin Van Buren.
I'm always surprised when an author reminds me that historical figures (the Founding Fathers in this case) are not the perfect, loyal people they've been portrayed as in our textbooks. Of course they're human and can be petty and would be upset if passed over for a promotion they felt they'd earned.
The sentence, "This insensitivity to other people's religion and customs has been a constant in the affairs of the republic and the author of much trouble...", applied back then and unfortunately continues to apply today.
I also learned a new word for snowbanks -- "snow-bitches" (thought to be derived from beaches/bitches made of snow).
Overall, this is probably not a book I would've picked up without the recommendation but I'm glad I read it and plan to continue the author's "Narratives of Empire" series (In order of course, even though the author said they don't have to be read that way...I'm not a monster).
A Few Quotes from the Book
"It has been my fate to be the centre of a thousand inventions, mostly of a disagreeable nature. I never deny these stories. People believe what they want to believe. Yet I do think that my name has in some mysterious way been filched from me and used to describe a character in some interminable three-volume novel of fantastic adventure, the work of a deranged author whose imagination never sleeps - although this reader does when he reads for the thousandth time how the hellish Aaron Burr meant single-handedly to disband the United States when a voyage to the moon would have been simpler to achieve, and a good deal more interesting."
"Curious to think that we would almost certainly have been friends had we not been two young "heroes" at the beginning of a new nation, each aware that at the summit there is a place for only one. As it turned out, neither of us was to reach the highest place. I hurled Hamilton from the mountain-side, and myself fell."
"I know the effect a good lawyer can make on a jury. The sun at noon can become the moon at midnight if Colonel Burr has decided that such a replacement is in the interest of his client."
"It was about this time that I learned exactly what it was that Hamilton had said of me, and knew that this world was far too narrow a place to contain the two of us."