Books: Pangs and Needles

REFLECTIONS UPON A SINKING SHIP by Gore Vidal. 255 pages. Little, Brown. $5.95.

Put a toga and a wreath on Gore Vidal and he could pass as a Roman at Nero's court. You know, the cheerfully disillusioned fellow in the corner who always said the empire would come to a bad end and—now that the fire has started—is absolutely the life of the party.

Nobody can beat the exhilaration of a pessimist who thinks the end-time has come. Writing slightly bad-tasting novels (Myra Breckinridge) and bland-tasting plays (Visit to a Small Planet) is just the start for Vidal. He keeps busy as an...

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