The story was very moving for me. It was not difficult for me to connect to Jim as a character, even if Vidal made him seem very simple. Jim's grapple between the true identity of his self and the identity he is socially constrained to show the world makes him appear flat and without personality, rather than a failure of Vidal's writing. Jim is the quiet person who rarely tells his views because he can't trust others to accept him who he really is, with sufficient reason. How else could Jim act and attempt to fit into society other than try to fade into the background?
This is the first Vidal book I have read and I am amazed by his writing. It is tight, succinct, with emotion hovering right underneath and between the prose. He doesn't spend time with Jim's mind, but rather on a variety of experiences that the reader is left to interpret how these events have affected Jim. It's not until the ending does the reader realize how Jim has subtly changed over the course of the novel.
I thought the love Jim had for Bob was very heartbreaking, simply because he thought of Bob for so many years and idealized a particular life, thinking that his ultimate goal was to fulfill this, whereas Bob had absolutely no idea. Even though the ending was shocking (I read the revised book in which Vidal softened it), I think it did fit the novel. The anger Jim silently kept inside about the confusion and disappointment of his sexuality finally manifested. The life Jim had imagined and longed for was destroyed even before it had a chance to begin, and Jim's action showed he conceded that his life would never be happy or promising.
It is really amazing Vidal published this book in the time period. The is very little reference to sex or romantic scenes. Most of it is hinted at in a very ambiguous way, so in no way is this book an over top gay romance story. This is classic literature.