Vidal's essays, by contrast, have all the strengths of his novels with this additional grace: They don't have to make a show of inhabiting other minds. And so the qualities of the originating mind -- wit, phrasemaking, autodidacticism, a talent to inflame -- stand out all the more starkly.
For proof, we may call up "The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal," assembled by Jay Parini, the author's literary executor (more whiffs of the posthumous). That word "selected," of course, implies a certain amount of cherry-picking. Juvenilia, senilia, outmoded usages, casual tribalisms have all presumably been cast away. Or have they? To Parini's credit, more than enough remains to show why and how Vidal gets under people's skin.
There is enough, too, to show that Vidal was, in some respects, well ahead of his time. His defense of homosexuality as "a matter of taste" (in the midst of the '60s), his calls for limits on executive power, his attack on "the National Security State" ... these still walk the razor's edge of topicality. Mere weeks after the Iraq war was joined, Vidal was calling attention to the prisoners in Guant�namo Bay. Some 15 years before Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great," Vidal was declaring that monotheism was "the great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture."