Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

Myra Breckinridge - Gore Vidal, Camille Paglia

Though 'Myra Breckinridge' offends on every level, though it is trashy, absurd, vile - also criminally prurient - I love this book. This novel, like Myra herself, cannot be easily categorized or made comfortable to readers.

 

The novel is made up of the pages of Myra's journal, kept at the request of her psychologist. The plot is simple: Myra Breckinridge comes to Hollywood to get her deceased husband Myron's share of his uncle Buck's "star" academy. From there she aims, simply, to conquer.

 

As Uncle Buck tries to discredit her claims, Myra begins undermining the academy from the inside as a teacher, and a whole lot of sexual shenanigans goes on. I'm a product of our jaded, modern society and this 1968 novel is jaw-dropping to me in 2019. There is unfortunately nothing old-fashioned about the sexist attitudes Myra confronts and subverts, often cruelly, and the over-the-top racism and sexism she brings to the table - while thick with satire - is deeply uncomfortable.

 

One thing is usually known about 'Myra Breckinridge':

She is in fact a transsexual. Myra was Myron.

(show spoiler)

 

That fact is important and makes a large part of the argument for why the book is so relevant today. However, Myra is no poster-child and if no man can possess her, neither can any group wanting to add her to their canon. This was a book that also took on the darker elements of Hollywood and what it took to be a star, and recent events keep proving that things have not changed too much in fifty years.

 

Altogether, the book is delightful. I don't know why I find it so, given most of the pieces make me want to wash my hands, but I loved reading it. After having been out of print in the United States since the late 90s it is past time we all got reacquainted with the weird in Vidal's fiction.