One reviewer of this long-anticipated reminiscence of Gore Vidal
's first 39 years warned that only readers "not put off by the mean-spiritedness of these self-serving memoirs" would enjoy Palimpsest
. Put off? With Gore Vidal, isn't a little invective the point? Of course, Mr. Vidal is far more than a gossip columnist. For the past sixty years, Gore Vidal has been a major literary voice in this country, a true titan of American letters. He's written nearly thirty works of fiction, including his justly acclaimed multi-volume, fictional chronicle of the United States (Burr
, and Washington, D. C.
), and his great comic novel, Myra Breckinridge
. And his essays are generally counted among the finest of the twentieth century. But Vidal has always been known as much for his redoubtable personality, his frankness about his homosexuality, and his impressive pedigree grandson of a senator, son of a famous military aviator, half-brother to Jacqueline Kennedy's stepsister (or something like that) as for his actual work. He is perhaps best known for his astringent wit.
A literary prodigy and Washington insider in the forties, fifties, and sixties, Gore Vidal knew everybody at a time when writers and politicians held a loftier position in the celebrity pantheon than they do today. He disliked most of them "I had never wanted to meet most of the people that I had met and the fact that I never got to know most of them took dedication and steadfastness on my part" which might explain why he doesn't mind telling such off color stories about them. In Palimpsest, Jackie douches "with one foot in the bathtub and the other on the floor," Tennessee Williams cruises Jack Kennedy (which we are told amused the future President), and Vidal's own mother confesses that rage made her orgasmic ("I forgot to ask her if sex ever did"). Of course, Vidal doesn't leave himself out of the mélange, but somehow, he always includes a delicious dig or two: "I calculated, at 25, that I had had more than a thousand sexual encounters, not a world record (my near contemporaries Jack Kennedy, Marlon Brando and Tennessee Williams were all keeping up), but not bad, considering that I never got a venereal disease like Jack...or suffered from jealousy like Tennessee." Of course, Palimpsest is elegantly written, and includes a great deal of the sophisticated literary and political commentary Vidal is so famous for. But it is also Vidal's opportunity in his twilight years to remember the many celebrated personalities he has known in his remarkable life (now that they are all dead and can't contradict him). Farley, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Gore Vidal refers to this memoir of his first 39 years as a "palimpsest", pointing out how remembrances are shaped and reshaped with time. From the vantage point of his villa on the Italian coast, Vidal tells of his life as a novelist and dramatist, politician and critic, and discusses the figures he has known, including the Kennedys, Tennessee Williams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack Kerouac, Amelia Earhart, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Woven throughout are meditations on writing, history, acting, politics, and love. 91 photos.
This explosively entertaining memoir abounds in gossip, satire, historical apercus, and trenchant observations. Vidal's compelling narrative weaves back and forth in time, providing a whole view of the author's celebrated life, from his birth in 1925 to today, and features a cast of memorable characters—including the Kennedy family, Marlon Brando, Anais Nin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
About the Author
Gore Vidal (1925–2012) was born Eugene Luther Vidal, later adopting the surname of his grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore, as his first name. Well known as a novelist, an essayist, a playwright, and a social and political commentator, he was the author of numerous novels—the first, Williwaw, written when he was twenty-one—as well as scripts for film, television and the stage, including the extremely successful The Best Man and Visit to a Small Planet. His other novels include Myra Breckenridge (1968), as well as thehistorical novels in the series Narratives of Empire, which includes Burr (1973), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1990), and The Golden Age (2000). He won the National Book Award in 1993 for his book of essays, United States: Essays (1952–1992).