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"I am not my own subject," Gore Vidal used to say. But now, surprisingly, he has turned his wit and elegant storytelling gifts to a candid memoir of the first forty years of his life. Palimpsest is written from the vantage point of Vidal's library in his villa on the Italian coast. As visitors come and go, his memory ranges back and forth across a rich history. Vidal's childhood was spent in Washington, D.C., in the household of his grandfather, the blind senator from Oklahoma, T. P. Gore, and in the various domestic situations of his complicated and exasperating mother, Nina. Then come schooldays at St. Albans and Exeter; the army; life as a literary wunderkind in New York, London, Rome, and Paris in the forties and fifties; sex in an age of promiscuity; and a campaign for Congress in 1960. Vidal's famous skills as a raconteur, his forthrightness, and his wicked wit are brilliantly at work in these recollections of a difficult family, talented friends, and interesting enemies. The cast includes Tennessee Williams, the Kennedys, Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman Capote, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Christopher Isherwood, Jack Kerouac, Jane and Paul Bowles, Santayana, Anais Nin, Norman Mailer, Leonard Bernstein, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, among others. Beautifully rendered anecdotes are intermixed with meditations on writing, history, acting, and politics. Perhaps most surprising is the leitmotif of a great, lost love. "A memoir is how one remembers one's own life," Vidal says, "while an autobiography is history." Palimpsest is a true story, but also an extraordinary work of literary imagination.

438 pages, Paperback

First published October 3, 1995

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About the author

Gore Vidal

187 books1,636 followers
Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays. He was also known for his patrician manner, Transatlantic accent, and witty aphorisms. Vidal came from a distinguished political lineage; his grandfather was the senator Thomas Gore, and he later became a relation (through marriage) to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Vidal ran for political office twice and was a longtime political critic. He was a lifelong isolationist Democrat. As well known for his essays as his novels, Vidal wrote for The Nation, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New York Review of Books and Esquire.

Through his essays and media appearances, Vidal was a long time critic of American foreign policy. In addition to this, he characterised the United States as a decaying empire from the 1980s onwards. Additionally he was known for his well publicized spats with such figures as Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Truman Capote.

Vidal's novels fell into two distinct camps: social and historical. His best known social novel was Myra Breckinridge; his best known historical novels included Julian, Burr and Lincoln. His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), outraged conservative critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality.

At the time of his death he was the last of a generation of American writers who had served during World War II, including J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller. Perhaps best remembered for his caustic wit, he referred to himself as a "gentleman bitch" and has been described as the 20th century's answer to Oscar Wilde

Also used the pseudonym Edgar Box.

Gore Vidal é um dos nomes centrais na história da literatura americana pós-Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Nascido em 1925, em Nova Iorque, estudou na Academia de Phillips Exeter (Estado de New Hampshire). O seu primeiro romance, Williwaw (1946), era uma história da guerra claramente influenciada pelo estilo de Hemingway. Embora grande parte da sua obra tenha a ver com o século XX americano, Vidal debruçou-se várias vezes sobre épocas recuadas, como, por exemplo, em A Search for the King (1950), Juliano (1964) e Creation (1981).

Entre os seus temas de eleição está o mundo do cinema e, mais concretamente, os bastidores de Hollywood, que ele desmonta de forma satírica e implacável em títulos como Myra Breckinridge (1968), Myron (1975) e Duluth (1983).

Senhor de um estilo exuberante, multifacetado e sempre surpreendente, publicou, em 1995, a autobiografia Palimpsest: A Memoir. As obras 'O Instituto Smithsonian' e 'A Idade do Ouro' encontram-se traduzidas em português.

Neto do senador Thomas Gore, enteado do padrasto de Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, primo distante de Al Gore, Gore Vidal sempre se revelou um espelho crítico das grandezas e misérias dos EUA.

Faleceu a 31 de julho de 2012, aos 86 anos, na sua casa em Hollywood, vítima de pneumonia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 135 reviews
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
1,997 reviews3,971 followers
November 18, 2012
This memoir covers the first forty years of the Vidal saga, alighting on his blind senator Grandpa, savage alcoholic mother, childhood sweetheart, licentious sex life, and endless hobnobbery with the most prominent actors and politicians of the period as he mosies up the Hollywood ladder and cosies up with Kennedys. Written in the sumptuously arch manner familiar to anyone who has seen a Vidal clip on YouTube, the memoir establishes a warm if prickly tone, and treats the reader as an intelligent confidant(e) for the duration. Vidal’s life was far from “tough” in the street sense, but it wasn’t without personal and financial trials. Far from being drip-fed millions since birth, Gore’s father was a Scrooge and his mother a vengeful rival who delighted in his failures. Since he moved in a world where homosexuality was not the lynching offence it was to the lower orders (in the 40s), he was able to enjoy full sexual freedom and promiscuity, despite the predictable condemnation of The City and the Pillar that forced him to work for a decade in theatre, film and TV, where he made enough to become the leisurely aesthete he aimed to be (i.e. to achieve complete artistic freedom, rather than a wanton lust for money—though Vidal was clearly used to a expensive lifestyle and eager to maintain this). Apart from some rather bland material towards the end on Jackie & Jack Kennedy, who seem to be deeply uninteresting figures on the whole, this is a swinging memoir of an outstanding life that will induce fits of envious knuckle-biting and book punching. But that’s our problem.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 13 books208 followers
October 13, 2022
Of course one cannot help but be entertained by the pompous and regal Vidal, raised in privilege but excluded from his apparent birthright because he was not quite straight (he didn’t believe in the sexual orientation labels that became fashionable so I am treading gingerly). It didn’t matter what others thought of him — for Gore Vidal only his own opinion mattered. And so many opinions! What fervently nursed grudges! All those unforgiven slights!

For some reason I believe it is important to remember that Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were among his best and longtime friends.
Profile Image for Katie.
156 reviews42 followers
July 3, 2018
Possibly the best memoir ever written.

Vidal is selfish and self-obsessed. He writes as if he holds court to the glittering socialites and society-types who swarm around him as he delicately wafts them away, and yet he is the one playing courtier - not a single name goes unchecked, not a single encounter escapes being diligently written down to reflect the style in which he operated within it. Vidal is clearly entranced by celebrity: and as a celebrity who has to work for a living, he's especially bitter about those who do not.

Ever nasty, ever self-obsessed, ever the worst qualities of all those he loathes, Gore Vidal was made to write a memoir.

His ideas about himself and others are sometimes farcical. He loses a congressional Democrat seat in NY, but it's only due to Jack Kennedy's lack of popularity. Vidal's following commercial success at the top of the NYT bestseller list eventually leads powerbrokers to beg him to stand once again. He chooses to "let the cup pass unto" another candidate, who promptly wins it by a landslide - thanks to Vidal, of course. He maintains that he could have brought down perhaps his biggest foe in the administration, Robert Kennedy, if it wasn't for the fact that the evidence he wished to use was brought to him by the mob.

People, places, and vocations change and flicker constantly. Even the most famous A-listers (Garbo, the Kennedys, Tennessee Williams) are used as props for Vidal's wit, their worst traits and moments dissected for Vidal's pleasure. Their good qualities? Rarely, if ever, mentioned. Jackie Kennedy has "boyish beauty and life-enhancing malice [that] were a great joy to me". Grace Kelly at the time of her marriage is fat and rapidly ageing, willing to play princess on a rock above a casino to escape the fate of Loretta Young and Joan Crawford - that of an (gasp) old actress in the makeup chair before everyone else. Lee Radziwill (whose secret service codename was supposedly 'rancidass') is so loathed that her presence dominates the Kennedy Administration for him (and therefore us). Vidal would be misogynistic if he didn't view men with equal contempt. Even his partner of 53 years, Howard, gets nary a mention.

In this hurricane of casual sex and casual friendships, the one constant is grief, which is slowly revealed to dominate the book. Vidal's first love (and best friend) Jimmie Trimble is killed during the war. At the start of our story (in the present, as an old man) he meets with Jimmie's mother. In the middle he once again takes a break from dizzying past memories of glamorous NY socialites and NYC beatniks in order to document present-day meetings with Jimmie's friends. By the time we reach the final act of the book, he meets with the woman Jimmie was engaged to at the time of his death. Vidal is seemingly winded by grief when she shows him a picture Jimmie kept of her in his pocket - not because of what the photo represents, but because it is curved to the shape of his body.

The finest segments of this book are the earliest. Vidal has ways of describing the people and places around him in the heady days of his youth in a way that are reminiscent of an ancient Greek orgy. When discussing his bisexuality and homoeroticism in youth he writes that "we were true pagans who knew nothing about categories." When describing Trimble, he writes that "his sweat smelled of honey, like that of Alexander the Great". He has a one night stand with the 'irresistible' Kerouac at the height of his 'animal charm' before the latter descends to rampant alcoholism, antisemitism, and an early death. When, decades later, he sees a youth wearing a t-shirt with Kerouac's face on it, he strikes up a conversation with the boy. Did he really look like that? asks the child? Yes says Vidal, he did for a time, and that's all that's necessary, to look like that - to be like that - for a time.

The book ends with - what else? - a recollection of society types flattering Vidal. The story he intends to convey means nothing, but a throwaway line that is mentioned almost innocuously is of interest. Vidal offhandedly writes that he has purchased a cemetery plot for himself in the same cemetery in which Jimmie Trimble was buried all those decades ago.

I expected the society gossip. Perhaps foolishly, I didn't expect the quality of the book.
Profile Image for Thirstyicon.
54 reviews4 followers
July 10, 2008
I learned that Gore Vidal liked John Kennedy, but was not a fan of Bobby. I also learned quite a bit about Tennessee Williams; a little about Truman Capote; and quite a bit about what he thought of Jackie O. He also talks at length about people most people have no interest in; but it turns out they do make for interesting stories, sometimes. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, if you are interested in reading about Gore's experiences and stories about other writers (Kerouac, Burroughs, and the previously mentioned writers too). Also, it helps to have an interest in politics.
Profile Image for Jill.
46 reviews3 followers
March 1, 2009
Vidal's wit astounds and his insights resonate, at least for me. I particulary like a passage from page 193, "I understand now why the old enjoy the obituaries of contemporaries. I think it is a sense of relief in letting go for good of people whose presence one no longer needs."

The Newsweek review of this book says it best,
"Vidal is a kind of contemporary Byron: patrician, major writer, glamourboy, flouter of norms..."

Great book.
Profile Image for David.
398 reviews45 followers
October 4, 2021
When I was a kid, Gore Vidal seemed a kind of mythical figure. I'd always known his name - ever since Lily Tomlin's Ernestine called him "Gory Veedal" - and I even read 'Myra Breckinridge' when I was a teen, but that only served to reinforce my image of him as... not quite real.

Maybe that's why it was appropriate that one of his earliest works ('Visit to a Small Planet') seems, in a way, to present Vidal himself as an extraterrestrial; an alien intelligence that came here from another world in order to observe America, its people and its politics.

Vidal's terrific memoir backs up that intelligent-yet-alien image.

I know that Vidal was polarizing. There seemed to be no middle of the road for most people; they either loved him or hated him. But, from what he writes here, you get the sense that - in keeping them at a distance - Vidal was actually doing people a favor. He admits his faults and confesses to being more than an acquired taste; you probably wouldn't want to get used to him or make a habit of him.

Such an attitude could - no doubt often did - translate as 'snob'. But the memoir doesn't read that way... well, except for one chapter - 'At Home on the Hudson in the Cold War', which could easily have been titled 'Snobs I Have Known' and details a number of those in Vidal's inner circle who were less-than-pleasant. (It's the only chapter in the book that bored me - because the people did.)

Instead, this account quite often reads like an attempt at setting the record straight. Being somewhat enigmatic by nature (or design) - and, on top of that, rather successful in his career, Vidal (as he sees it) was, by turns, lied about, intentionally misunderstood and envied. It's not that he's getting his revenge in print. In fact, Vidal reads kind of like a diary of Addison DeWitt (of 'All About Eve') but without the smoldering bitchiness. ~well, for the most part; even the occasional bitchiness reads as benign.

Vidal states early on that he's not all that interested in writing something linear with these memories. As a result, he sort of flies around somewhat - though he'll land and stay on-topic for reasonable periods of time. And his writing is often charged with brilliance:
The squalor never ends once one gets involved with people for whom truth is no criterion.
~as well as poignancy, as when Vidal writes about Jimmie Trimble (the love of his life - who died at 19 in Iwo Jima and to whom Vidal dedicated the novel 'The City and the Pillar'):
Jimmie was both homoerotic and heteroerotic. I suppose I am curious about the balance between the two in his nature. But then when one lover goes into shock at the news of his death and another [Vidal] mourns him to the end of his life, we have moved far beyond sex or eroticism and on to the wilder shores of love, and shipwreck.
Profile Image for Bryant.
213 reviews24 followers
September 6, 2008
The metaphor of a palimpsest for writing a memoir is an ingenious one, and there are scraps of Gore Vidal's well-textured parchment that are genuinely fascinating. Step-brother to Jackie Kennedy Onassis (nee Bouvier) and her sister Caroline Lee, and generally very well-connected from an early age, Vidal is nevertheless at pains to observe throughout the book that the essential choice he made was never to let his possible privileges make him passive. As he writes, "Jackie, Lee, and I were brought up in a wealthy manner and yet were penniless . . . Of necessity, Jackie married twice for money, with splendid results. Lee married twice, far less splendidly. I went to work."

That work has produced several fine and often ground-breaking novels. A weakness, though, of "Palimpsest" is Vidal's decision not to discuss these books and their consequences in greater detail. He is generally more preoccupied with personalities, and there are times when the book reads like a collection of memorable one-liners from sometimes memorable people. (Two of the better one-liner scenes: Tennessee Williams proposes that he and Vidal sleep together after a night of unsuccessful cruising. "Don't," responded Vidal, "be macabre." Or there's Williams' own wildly inaccurate metrics for why the Kennedys would never attain to the White House: "They're far too attractive.")

Vidal repeatedly laments the death of book reading, which has been overrun by the usual suspects of television, movies, and journalism. But Vidal's memoir often reveals how much he himself is overrun by the very thing--celebrity--that these media often reinforce. Vidal's lengthy disquisition on the Kennedys is easily the most self-indulgent and boring chapter in the book. Maybe Vidal's purpose is to reveal, by boring us, how uninteresting the Kennedys themselves really were. If Americans spend not enough time reading books and too much time obsessing over celebrity, it's frustrating that, with this chapter and other sections like it, the normally maverick Vidal join the ranks he purports to be above.

The best parts of this book, especially the touching descriptions of Vidal's one true love who died young at Iwo Jima, are unfortunately too sparse to hold the book together. Vidal has a way of ending paragraphs and large sections eloquently and with a rueful but not overly wistful touch (the final chapter is perfect). It's the verbiage between those well-cadenced endings that drags.

Profile Image for R.J. Gilmour.
Author 2 books10 followers
January 27, 2015
Just finished reading Gore Vidal's Palimpsest (New York: Random House, 1995). According to Vidal, "I have just now looked up the earliest meaning of palimpsest. It is even more apt than I thought: "Paper, parchment, etc., prepared for writing on and wiping out again, like a slate" and "a parchment, etc., which has been written upon twice; the original writing having been rubbed out!' This is pretty much what my kind of writer does anyway. Starts with life; makes a text; then a re-vision-literally, a second seeing, an afterthought, erasing some but not all of the original while writing something new over the first layer of text. Finally, in a memoir, there are many rubbings-out and puttings-in or, as I once observed to Dwight Macdonald, who had found me disappointingly conventional on some point, "I have nothing to say, only to add?'...These memories were recorded during 1993 and 1994 and completed-or abandoned-in March of 1995. 1 go back and forth between the present (now already past) to people and places that I knew long ago, duly noting along the way a number of familiar selves, some more real than others....Palimpsest: discrete archeological layers of a life to be excavated like the different levels of old Troy, where, at some point beneath those cities upon cities, one hopes to find Achilles and his beloved Patroclus, and all that wrath with which our world began." (6)

Vidal's memoirs are truly entertaining and it is amazing how his life seems in some manner or other to have touched every important event and person in the twentieth century. The memoir is filled with names and places and discusses quite openly his own sexuality and sexual desires and conquests. So much of his writing is light, easy and well written and a joy to read. One is propelled along by the memoirs and his current ruminating on writing his memoirs which he does along the way. He takes certain individuals to task, specifically Truman Capote for filling his life with endless fictions made up to resemble reality, but Vidal can be accused of the same thing. His endless witty repartee is surely only a part of memories reworked and rewritten in the style of a palimpsest.
Profile Image for John.
Author 3 books6 followers
January 8, 2010
This book was okay. Parts of it were good. The thing that really struck me is his selfishness. He says that his one great love died when he was young and he was unable to really love again. I just don't buy it. How can you even know what love is when you are so young? In the end it seemed more like a coward's excuse to not have to love again. It is easy to idealize someone who has died.
Profile Image for Stephen Brody.
75 reviews22 followers
April 18, 2018
I read, or rather raced through almost in one sitting, Palimpsest when it first came out, with unalloyed if sometimes rather startled attention. Ten years later, savoured like a splendid dinner, it was even better. Of course one would need the same easy talent with words as its author to say anything that would do it justice. Yet what exactly is it: not a biography because it hops around seemingly free-associating randomly between just about any subject over time and place; far too un-dusty to fit into the category of ‘Memoirs’; certainly not a ‘confession’ because it’s completely shameless without a trace of an explanatory apology; a lot more than a collection of gossipy anecdotes though there’s plenty of those too; patrician conversational reminiscences only if anyone dared answer back; and least of all a fiction although it sometimes might almost read as one. Unique Vidal I suppose –if he had few equals in his own time, it’s safe to bet that that there’s none now - turned by Time’s remorseless march from statuesque gilded youth into rather portly idol or devil according to taste with whole encyclopaedia of experience to reflect on and now departed, no doubt a relief to as many as it’s a loss to others.

Even for anyone who had never heard of him (if such an individual exists), it’s pretty clear from the first couple of pages that an awful lot of people are going to loathe Gore Vidal; I think he had the reputation at a stage of being the most hated man in America, a remarkable accomplishment in itself, though one now probably superseded by a few other real villains. Why? Apart from so deliberately and unpatriotically upsetting a good many ‘Amerikan’ apple-carts by a cold-bloodedly and unrelentingly accurate exposé of the mechanisms of Empire (“we have made so many enemies all around the world that, in the name of terrorism, a quite effective police state has ever so gradually replaced the old republic”), mostly sheer envy I’d think, and not for just getting away with that. Who if he was honest wouldn’t wish to be not just dashingly handsome but positively beautiful, brought up in exciting and ‘high-society’ surroundings, precociously self-assured, flying a plane at the age of ten, being able to evade the tiresome exigencies of schools and universities because he had a twenty thousand-volume library at his disposal in boyhood, fiendishly clever not only in a very intelligent but satirically witty way, producing a whole string of best-sellers starting from before he was twenty, hobnobbing effortlessly with the bad and the beautiful in Hollywood and Washington and sought after by the international rich and famous – and infamous - everywhere. A high-regarding – ‘imperial’ as some have said, or others ‘arrogant and boastful’ - idea of himself didn’t of course help his popularity, though it could also be said, with so many favours of fortune heaped on his head, that it would have been rank hypocrisy to see himself as otherwise; he wasn’t the type to creep around wrapped in any cloak of false modesty. Vidal states his preferences, or prejudices as you wish, straightforwardly, usually with good reasons for them, and you can like it or lump it. I think I can sincerely say that of at least one of the seven deadly sins I’m customarily guiltless, yet immersed in this volume the green-eyed monster couldn’t always be suppressed: I admit, I’d love to be like Gore Vidal, fluidly at home in a world where far greater sins were passed over unless they were ‘bad form’, where the duelling tools of young men were quotations from Cicero, where learning and erudition was admired and imitated as much as frivolous and urbane repartee and when none of it was hindered by the sour disapproval of preachers and scientists. There’s a delicious episode when the cocky twenty-two year old was permitted to pay his respects to the eighty-five year old George Santayana. “I shall talk and you shall listen”, pronounced the philosopher; “You can ask questions of course. But remember that I am very deaf”. The unruly lad was enchanted, he’d met his match: “I felt like Phaedo with Socrates”. This was at the same period as the budding and enduring friendship between Vidal and Tennessee Williams, unlikely companions one might have thought though perhaps another quotation explains it. “Invariably, at the end of A Streetcar named Desire, when the audience was barking like seals as the broken Blanche Dubois is led with away with the poignant cry, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers, the Bird’s (Williams’) hoot of laughter would echo in the snuffling theatre and he would say, loudly, ‘Now she’s off to the bughouse’ ”; only Vidal saw that the playwright envisaged for his ‘pathetic’ heroine an enjoyable stay in the ‘bughouse’, seducing a few of the more comely doctors before opening up a successful boutique. (I have to admit I didn’t quite see that myself but it fits perfectly!) The quality in common was a very finely-tuned ear, as acutely sensitive to the just-audible poetry of mundane words as it was in picking up the false notes of maudlin sentimentality and insincerity. And on and on for four hundred pages, where just about everybody who was anybody makes an appearance, including in one of the best chapters with unexpected sympathy the disgraced Princess Margaret with her “Hanoverian” tones and by way of complete contrast and rather more warily Denham Fouts from Alabama. The Princess had a certain claim to grandeur, the male poule de luxe par excellence of his brief time had to make his own: “I haven’t seen so much of Paul since he became king and had to marry Fredericka”, he remarked from a feathery cloud of opium fumes. Still-living literary legends, such as André Gide and E. M. Forster on the other hand, tend to get the cold shoulder for their frousty snobbishness. Post-War Paris, where the author’s adventures included a visit to The Master’s favourite brothel “still full of Mother Proust’s lugubrious furniture”, assumes the proportions of a bohemian urban Garden of Eden….Vidal’s Golden Age, as he was wont to call it in later years, whether tongue-in-cheek or not and anyway it was very short-lived, the Age of Incoherence had already set in by the next decade, though not without a few lingering relics. Edith Sitwell is especially choice: when she was resident in a London club for gentlewomen “I would arrive to find Edith already enthroned in the lounge as the military ladies, one by one, marched up to pay her tribute. To each she gave a winning girlish smile while whispering to me, ‘this one we call the field-marshal’. A bob-haired figure, in sensible shoes, with swagger stick – if there was not a swagger stick there should have been - bowed low over Edith’s hand. ‘Dame Edith’, a gruff voice saluted her. Edith responded with gay girlish giggles. Then the field-marshal went off to war, and Edith said ‘Now I know that you Americans always want a drink of something before lunch - something light for me of course. Now what was that lovely drink that Osbert and I became so fond of in New York? Something amusing and – I think – Italian….’ A waitress appeared with a small gold-fish bowl. ‘Here’s your martini Dame Edith’ “. (The lunch, as ordained by the hostess, was a ‘red’ one – lobster and strawberries accompanied by a bottle of burgundy apiece, after the gold-fish bowl martinis. It’s a wonder they could stand up, let alone after that to scribble away into the night. It comes as a bit of a shock to realise that this was going on when I was approaching adolescence; a reminder also, a theme often harped on by Vidal, of how dull the world has become so quickly). After that we descend into American politics of the 1960’s, in which unwholesome world Vidal for a while had ambitions though, with hindsight, no hope of success. To some extent in the court of Kennedy what he did finally come to see – though it would have seemed then like the craziest of what’s now naively labelled as ‘conspiracy theories’ – that even the leading participants were not only motivated by little more then private vendettas against each other, but failed to realise that they themselves were only puppets in a master plan being engineered elsewhere: the whipping-up of a ‘communist threat’ as a justification for preparing the dogs of war for the benefit of certain industrialists, or genuine madmen. In the quoted words of J.F. Kennedy himself: “In this …uh … job you get to meet just about everybody. You get to know all the big movers and shakers, and the thing that most strikes me about them is how second-rate they really are”. Kennedy, neither particularly innocent any more than idealistic, was innocent enough not to see that the Security State was already burgeoning behind his back; he was soon to find out. Thirty years later, Vidal’s still-dim prescience had become all too plainly visible as modern America went on record as the most war-mongering empire in the whole of history – something he, prodigiously well-read not only in almost everything written in his own time but reaching back to the annals of Ancient Rome, was almost uniquely qualified to state. None of that is funny at all and the best that Vidal, escaping to the libraries of Europe, could muster was a sort of wry cynicism where the pen, if not mightier than the sword, was at least the more honourable alternative. So naturally he was also hated because he was feared, all to little avail of course. If ‘politics’ was bad in the 1960’s that’s nothing to what it’s become.

Envy is permissible when it’s admiring – unless, as more often happens, vicarious delight at such tales and truth-telling is tainted by the realization that one could never rise to that level and is translated into spiteful and resentful malice. Because, as he grew older, one thing was certain: not too many would venture into close proximity to the sharp-tongued Mr Vidal other than on tip-toe. Another thing was equally certain, that as soon as he was safely dead a whole flock of carrion crows and a swarm of biliously-disposed serpents would have a field day. They did and have, as represented in a recent publication enticingly entitled “In Bed with Gore Vidal”. I haven’t read this, and don’t wish to, having seen enough reviews of it; my impression is that it could be described as a truly dirty book, though not in the way its manufacturer intended. The main target, naturally, is Vidal’s private life, for which it must be said he himself provided more than ample material. Supposing perhaps that candour was enough while overlooking that sympathetic readers didn’t need to be told while the others don’t want to be told and stick their heels in if they are, he doesn’t always present his most attractive side - proclaiming for example that he’d never sought to give anyone else any pleasure or “the potency of other males is a turn-off”; after all, such glittering metal surely is enhanced rather than tarnished by - what shall we say, a ‘friendlier’ approach - to the business of lust. Nor is it entirely convincing, for once: only the most crudely self-centred philanderer would take that tone un-ironically, and Vidal, however impatient with vulgar sentimentality, was far too intelligent to be that. Here one has to read very carefully between the lines, because the more crudely psychologically-inclined observer might be all too eager to smell a rat, and conceivably it was Vidal’s aversion to ‘psychoanalysis’ that egged him on, actually, to provoke it. Amateur analysis of the popular variety, inevitably, has been dragged by those who don’t like him by way of providing a cover of intellectual respectability for their own aversions: he hated his mother and was therefore not only ‘misogynistic’ but ‘a closet gay’ and ‘incapable of real love’. Bunkum, or accurately enough in his own words, “how a drop of Freud can poison so many wells”. Glamorous in palmier days, Mrs Eugene Vidal, as she briefly was, was not an ideal figure of a woman or a mother . Her own parents, to whom the young Gore was devoted and says from whom he derived his education, are reported to have burst into song, ‘Lulu’s Back in Town’, and dissolved into resigned giggles when they heard of her infrequent appearances. She was a ruthless gold-digger, vituperative and selfish even when she was sober; only a real artist could have made her into the reluctantly comic figure she is here. On the other hand, Vidal Senior and the Gore grandparents are portrayed with genuine affection and gratitude; as indeed are various other people in spite of the tone of worldly sang-froid (in itself simply an expression of a distaste for emotional excess, rather understandable after the mother). But it’s over Vidal’s ‘partner’ of half a century that the knives really come out, sharpened by the now-notorious statement that except initially there was no sexual contact between them, as indeed according to his idea of things there should never be between friends. Allowing for over-statement in the interests of making a point, this in fact is a very sensible solution to ‘marriage’, especially in a milieu where “divorce is an institution” – it avoids the jealousies, tantrums and vengeful recriminations that destroy most conventional arrangements so that mutual understanding and sympathy can flourish, and we don’t need cheap journalistic probes into any of that. It might have been too tactlessly honest of Vidal unabashedly to state that he had thousands of other encounters, most of them rapidly efficient and in more foolish modern language, “predatory” or even “exploitive”; though none of his ‘victims’ was ever heard to complain – indeed, one apparently still living, formerly a teenage street ‘hustler’, defended him warmly. Nor is there the slightest reason to suppose, as some have, that he was exaggerating in order to show off; J. F. Kennedy, he admits, beat him on that score, and I’ve known myself more than one other who could have too. If Vidal was ‘monstrous’, it was only because he was unfortunate enough to survive into the age of the new Puritanism and its treacherously-forked tongues. As he said, “we did what we felt like and made no fuss about it”. That was the prevailing ethos of the time, he raised no eyebrows amongst his chosen contemporaries who were perfectly used to amiably insulting each other and tolerating each other’s foibles no matter how bizarre, something a later generation befuddled with some sort of existential angst which obliges them to both auto-flagellation and censoriousness, fails to understand. There is an additional source of latter-day resentment. ‘Homo-erotic’ (his expression) by inclination, Vidal wouldn’t use the word ‘gay’ except in inverted commas – “the weirdly inappropriate word used to describe a non-existent category” – and had no truck with its exponents, preferring words which were then in common usage but are now ‘forbidden’, because he believed strongly in individual human variations and insisted that these were matters not of artificial classification but of many universal continua all intertwined in un-analyzable ways, and that “there is no such thing as homosexual, only homosexual experiences” – in which, and he was one to know, a considerably higher proportion of the adult American male population than even Dr Kinsey calculated willingly participated “under the right circumstances”. Just as in the Ancient World, as Vidal sees ‘love’ as the Desire and Pursuit of the Whole, where sex is really rather irrelevant and incidental, until Christianity and Islam put a stop to that sort of playfully serious high-spiritedness by making it sinful and thereby raising it to the level of scurrilous excitation. This is rank heresy to the gay brotherhood, crypto-fascists all, because it denies them the pleasurably-martyred opportunity of feeling special because uniquely persecuted on account of their tragic destinies, rather as Jewish critics of Israeli policies are more savagely denounced as traitors to the cause than non-Jews. The conventional idea of marriage, in which otherwise healthy males are supposed all of a sudden to devote themselves with undying love and fidelity to someone they often hardly know and so spend a miserable existence – unless they manage to extricate themselves – of furtive ‘cheating’ and expensive atonement is, by Vidal’s assessment one of the most absurdly unrealistic ever invented; and, paradoxically, now emulated by ‘gays’ who at the same time lay all their troubles at the feet of ‘straight’ oppression. The subtleties of the male world, inaccessible to women because they have their own equally inaccessible to us, is also for most men too strange or even alarming to venture into, which I think is what is being indicated here. Delving further into the wave of antagonism one learns that, in addition to all that and as usual, avarice was rearing its ugly head. Vidal, through his own hard work, had a considerable fortune to dispose of, and none of it went to any of those so eagerly waiting to see themselves in the list of fortunate beneficiaries. Contesting law suits flourished, bringing up an accumulation of rumour, gossip, innuendo and downright falsehoods: Vidal was a secret ‘pederast’, a maid had witnessed he and his friend in the same bed so he was being ‘untruthful’, he suffered from dementia brought on by excessive drinking (hardly visible in final television interviews!), and so on and so forth. He must have been chuckling sardonically from the other side of the grave.

Because, really, all this sordid titillation is by-the-bye. Vidal, obviously, was a complicated, subtle and deeply thoughtful man, and one with the extraordinary courage not to conform to anyone else’s expectations. If the tone is one of blasé worldly-wisdom, well, he was very worldly-wise, exceptionally knowledgeable as well as perceptive without claims to being learned and impatient with those who were not. What else is there to do but to mock? And what if he didn’t always stick exactly to the truth (though I think he does more than most of us) when the purpose, as far as his writing went, was to entertain or even in an ironic way to enlighten his readers as well, one hopes, as himself. He didn’t believe it was possible to be objective about anything and that biography is nothing more than a pack of lies, the biggest lie of all being one’s creation of oneself; still, there are ways and ways of going about it. Nor, even without a high regard for humanity in general, is there any evidence either of real malice or cringing self-justification, which is more than can be said for most of us too. “How would you like to be remembered Mr Vidal?”, enquired another asinine interviewer. “Despite provocation I’ve never killed anyone”. Who can say if he was or wasn’t in the first rank of writers, whatever that means – the most read, the most ‘enduring’, ultimately just the most popular and reassuring to average readers? ‘Great writing’ is supposed to be immensely difficult and involve great suffering; it seems it wasn’t and didn’t in this case, another academically-puritanical point in his disfavour as it was for Anthony Burgess, almost as prolific under very different circumstances but for much the same reason, to make a livelihood as an outsider. Never mind about any of that, certainly he (Burgess too, sometimes) was amongst the funniest I for one have ever read, and laughter as distinguished from drunken mirth is the great restorer and humanizer. It’s the quality that puritans and dogmatists and the self-consciously righteous so notably lack.
168 reviews
July 3, 2020
This was a very good memoir and I fully enjoy the genre. The teenager in me who was obsessed with Beats loved all the gossip and I somehow managed to be shocked by how messed up and terrible the Kennedys were. This memoir does feel fully from a different time and I do have some moral qualms about just how easy and pleasurable I find reading about the white ruling class of mid century America.
Profile Image for Rose.
Author 4 books21 followers
January 19, 2013
Early in the book Gore Vidal makes the point that this is not an autobiography; it's a memoir. Too many autobiographies read like an excuse for the author’s failings and a platform for their supposed triumphs, as though they are getting their two cents in before someone else gives the final accounting. Vidal offers no excuses, even admitting in the beginning that he chose the title, and later realized he had been mispronouncing the word for years, and didn’t fully understand the origin of its meaning.

In Palimpsest he plays with time like a magician, deftly moving from one place to another, never losing the reader, an uncommon fluidity where most memoirs follow a strictly age based progression. There was no prose for prose sake, or lyrics over substance, yet his writing draws the reader in as though you were spending an evening listening to incisively funny repartee. He had me chuckling in the first few pages. Essentially, he’s the guy at a cocktail party you’d most like to spend the evening with.

He has an almost clinical insight into people and it doesn’t hurt that he’s known some of the icons of his age. His slant on Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Jackie Onassis (they shared a stepfather) and countless other characters of his time are priceless. There is no lack of dysfunctional family dynamics, either. Though he doesn’t use his upbringing as anything more than a travelogue of how he got where he is. He continues to be the most erudite voice of the anti-establishment. You can catch vintage Vidal on YouTube sparring with William F. Buckley on a sixties talking head show in a game of wordsmanship.

For all his wittiness and fascinating stories, the real value is that his memoirs chronicle how his life as a writer evolved. At a critical juncture early in his career, he decided to go ahead with the publication of his third novel, The City and the Pillar, over the objections of his agent. It contained overt homosexual overtones and true to form, the publishing industry blackballed him for the content. That he chose truth over conformity, and the commercial success that comes with it, was a defining moment. It seems the writers who only give their audience exactly what’s expected end up being trapped by their success.

His decision led to Hollywood and Broadway, experiences that ultimately made up for the early rejection. It is what allowed him the freedom to produce a wide range of work, from Myra Breckenridge (a one finger salute to the entertainment industry), to Visit to a Small Planet, and historical fiction, Lincoln, being his most famous.

Palimpsest is a gift from Vidal. He shared the essence of who he is with clarity, style and honesty. Isn’t that what art is all about?
Profile Image for Molly Black.
9 reviews
August 12, 2010
Another book discovered through a swap that just blindsided me with it's brilliance. I've read it several times due to the layering technique that Vidal uses.

He's (apparently) quite open about not only much of his life, but also the rich, powerful and lucky family ties that allow him to share anecdotes about the Kennedys and the satellites, such as Jackie, who didn't come from money, but certainly knew how to carry herself in such a way as to allow her to keep marrying "up" as it were.

I found it quite amusing that he chose for his title the very same one that Nabakov wanted to use for his collection of autobiographical stories. Unfortunately Nabakov's publishers told him no, as they believed that people wouldn't want to go into a bookshop and have to ask for a book whose title they couldn't pronounce. So Vidal got to use it and appear even more erudite.

His insights into his life and the philosophies he developed are fascinating as well and it definitely will remain one of my favorite books, as well as a favorite autobiography. Highly recommended, in other words.
Profile Image for Greg Heaton.
158 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2012
Gore Vidal was a massive dickhead. I cannot fathom why all these amazing people would spend time with him. The list of friends and contemporaries reads like some kind of insane post second World War Who's Who. Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, JFK, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Norman Mailer, Jack Keruoac, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Capra, Italo Calvino, Princess Margaret... the list goes on and on and on.

I suppose if you can easily switch between novels, TV and film, if you're stepbrother to Jackie O, and your grandfather was the first Senator of Oklahoma, you're not exactly disenfranchised.

It took me practically the entire book to realize that Mr. Vidal was acting. He created a character and was playing it for a standing ovation. The crucial takeaway, unlike so many of his friends and contemporaries, is that he has no core beliefs, no true sense of self. He solely responds.

If you take him for the queen he is, it's all very silly stuff and not to be taken seriously.
Profile Image for Kittaroo.
292 reviews32 followers
June 9, 2014
È il quarto titolo di Vidal che leggo: Giuliano, capolavoro, l'età dell'oro, altro capolavoro, la statua di sale, pietra miliare. Poi incappo nella biografia e ci metto tipo un mese a finirla perché è noiosissima.
Vidal è cresciuto tra la gente che conta, nel periodo d'oro della cultura americana. C'era in ogni avvenimento fondamentale del 20º secolo. Ha conosciuto chiunque. E ce lo fa sapere.
A volte i paragrafi sembrano elenchi telefonici.
Poi il terribile vizio, così radical chic di chiamare tutti per nome, Jack, Jakie, Bob. Ma di chi parliamo? Al 100 Jock, Jake, Jack, mi son persa.
Non posso nemmeno dire che sia particolarmente ben scritto, perché non riesce a dare alla narrazione un'anima.
Nonostante sia una voce diretta della cultura americana, nonostante racconti retroscena divertenti e sconosciuti, nonostante si parli di ogni personaggio famoso dagli anni 40 in poi, non riesce affatto ad essere coinvolgente.
È, ripeto, noiosissimo.
Un episodio sfortunato.
Profile Image for Simon.
800 reviews99 followers
April 15, 2013
Fun, if not necessarily truthful, read. The problem is that he makes these lordly statements about virtually everyone who was anyone in the last seven decades of the 20th century, and the net result makes it pretty plain that he can only see other people as extensions of himself. Jackie (truly improbable as he presents her) is Gore Vidal; Bill Walton is Gore Vidal; Bobby exists for Gore to hate, Schlesinger to patronize, etc. His voice is funny, but he only has one. I have the same issue with his novels, nearly all of which I have read. They're entertaining as hell, but more listening to a gossipy friend talking than, say, actual history (think Nancy Mitford's "biographies", but with more spite). Still, you go in knowing what you are getting, and the writing is sharp.
Profile Image for Corn14853.
13 reviews
March 25, 2011
The worst part about this book is that in it, GV dishes out scandal like the rent is due tomorrow.
The best part about this book is that in it, GV dishes out scandal like the rent is due tomorrow.

Highly enjoyable - in terms of prose as well as details and secrets. You'll learn things about the Kennedies that many people today don't realize seeing the clean-scrubbed pictures on the History channel. But we also hear many unsavory details about other personalities and politicians.

But Vidal does keep focus on his own life, though it does veer off that path multiple times. Nonetheless, the story of GV's live - literary, political, sexual - will keep you reading.

It's a must.
Profile Image for Leopold Benedict.
136 reviews40 followers
July 6, 2017
Vidal certainly is a highly talented and erudite writer with an interesting life. Personally, I found his views on love and sexuality to be the most interesting part of this book. However, the feeling encroached on me during reading the book that Vidal is a character who I probably would have disliked if I would have known him personally. He seems egoistic and arrogant. Of course not explicitly because he wrote the book about himself, but there are little red flags in the text that remind me of patterns of justification and behaviour of people who put their own interests in the centre of their actions and disregard the feelings and views of other people.
Profile Image for Craig Swartz.
Author 1 book1 follower
March 5, 2014
This book revealed many things to me that I had not previously known about Gore Vidal, all of them enlightening. He was in so many ways a remarkable person. What I took away from it was his straightforward honesty in nearly all facets of his life and his razor sharp commentary on our modern day tendencies and mores. It's a very good read.
Profile Image for Jack Fleming.
70 reviews26 followers
December 12, 2022
When Queen Elizabeth II died last week at the venerable age of 96, a debate was reopened on both sides of the Atlantic about the merits of Constitutional Monarchy versus Republicanism. In Britain, where National mourning amounted to little less than hysteria, questions were asked about whether this fetish for pomp and circumstance was healthy and if perhaps a presidential system was what was needed after all. Conversely, Stateside, given the depth of public interest in the Windsors and their deeds, especially since Meghan Markle saw fit to marry into the Firm, some people have openly debated whether a Royal Family of some sort might be a necessary and positive step. In the background of all this one can almost hear Gore Vidal sighing and tutting in his grave. If he were here he might reasonably remind us that America has always had its royal families, thank you very much. What else are the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Bushes, even, gulp, the Trumps, but competing dynasties waiting for their next shot at the throne?

Vidal should know, his kin were one of the oldest families in America, partly responsible for the break from Britain in the first place and he often wrote as if America was his own, saying at one point "My family helped start this country and I have a very possessive sense of it." From his aristocratic beginnings as the grandson of Senator Thomas P. Gore, and distant cousin of presidential nominee Al Gore, Vidal junior developed into a writer and polemicist who crafted brilliant novels about American history and provided some of the most brilliant witticisms of the era. Vidal put the WASP in waspish and reading a collection of his quotes on their own is hilarious: "Whenever a friend succeeds, a part of me dies." "A narcissist is someone better looking than you are."" Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television." Vidal was witty, but there was real substance there, and few people could match his winning combination of historical knowledge underpinned by acerbic, biting wit. Think Noam Chomsky mixed with the acidity of Oscar Wilde.

This book, Palimpsest, is his contribution to the genre of literary memoir. It recalls his long life and is told in sporadic flashback as his contemporary self adds commentary on his past, populated by a luminary cast of characters. And what a cast! JFK, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, Princess Margaret, William F Buckley, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg. These are just some of the people Vidal knew, in some cases intimately, and his memoirs are hilariously scabrous in the way he recalls their lives. One chapter indecorously begins "As I was fucking Jack Kerouac one day..."However, as well as being gossipy and droll the book is memorably poignant, particularly about Vidal's first love, the doomed young soldier Jimmy Trimble who was drafted at 18 into the marines and killed at Iwo Jima after a whirlwind romance with Vidal as a teenager was abruptly cut short by Pearl Harbour. Vidal never quite recovered from this loss, and his character seems to have formed itself protectively around the wound. In his later days he became a rather miserly and sharp-tongued critic of American society and Imperialism and even veered into the realms of conspiracy theory at certain points, openly questioning whether 9/11 was a hoax, and sending long love letters to Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber.

One can just about forgive him these lapses by remembering what he was like when he was good. His books 'Lincoln', 'Burr' and 'Julian' are some of the best historical novels of his time, and he also wrote wonderfully for the silver screen in films such as Ben Hur. Moreover he was an open and confident defender of being queer at a time when US society had become self-consciously puritan again. The fact that a recent biopic was shelved is a shame because it denies us the chance to see him portrayed where he was always determined to be, up on screen, the King of the world. In the end he will stay what he truly always was, a brilliant insider and critic of American society and the lies it likes to tell itself. America may not have a Monarchy to speak of, but Gore Vidal came closer than most to being genuine American royalty.
Profile Image for Stephen Hayes.
Author 6 books115 followers
July 20, 2016
I'm not quite sure why I took this book out of the library. I sometimes find that I like literary biographies of authors more than the books they wrote, and I've never read any books by Gore Vidal.

After reading this one, I'm still not sure if I'll read any others, but I found this one quite interesting, and in many places, especially the earlier part, witty and humorous. As the title suggests, he jumps backwards and forwards in time, sometimes writing over what he has already written, and sometimes the chronology is a little confusing, especially when discussing people he had known for a long time.

As a writer he met lots of other writers, and the book is a cross between a literary who's who and a scurrilous gossip column. On the whole, however, he didn't much like the company of other writers, even though he had met quite a lot of them, and he seems to have had fallings out with those he knew quite well, among whom were Tennessee Williams the playwright and Truman Capote the novelist. I was most interested in what he said about Beat Generation writers, as I have been particularly interested in them, and he knew Allen Ginsberg quite well, and had met some of the others, including Jack Kerouac, in whose book The Subterraneans he appeared as Arial Lavalina.

There is also quite a lot of political gossip, which throws an interesting light on American politics in the early 1960s. Vidal and Jackie Kennedy Onassis shared a common stepfather, whom both of their mothers had married for his money. Vidal himself even stood (or ran) for election at the time that Jack Kennedy was running for President, though he did not have a high opinion of most of the other members of the Kennedy administration, or of Kennedy himself, whom he regarded as a warmonger.

Concerning his own life, Vidal hated his mother, and had only one true love, Jimmy Trimble, whom he met at school, and they were lovers from the age of 12 until the age of 19, when Jimmy Trimble was killed in the Second World War. Thereafter Vidal had a preference for casual anonymous sex, a preference which, he says, he shared with Jack Kennedy, and thought sex was inimical to friendship. He did have a lifelong companion, but according to Vidal their relationship was premissed on "no sex".

Vidal was also involved in film and television, and wrote several plays, some for television, some for the stage, and he also wrote the screenplay for several films. As a result quite a lot of his personal reminiscences involve actors, directors and producers in the film industry, and it is only his acerbic wit that keeps the parts of his book that deals with them from being a standard celeb gossip column.

An enjoyable read, and quite illuminating, but I'm still not sure if I'll try to read any of his fiction.
Profile Image for Patty.
55 reviews1 follower
August 17, 2022
I became curious about Gore Vidal when I found myself in a discussion about his public feud with William F. Buckley. I was a teenager when this unfolded, but I remember being fascinated with Vidal, who in my eyes eviscerated Buckley by forcing him into that rhetorical checkmate wherein the ad-hominem is tossed into the ring (by Buckley in this case) and the bell rings: end of round, decision Vidal by TKO.
Palimpsest reveals Vidal in a particular form of memoir wherein the author gets to revisit, erase, right wrongs, clarify things that were set down on paper long ago. Vidal, who passed away in 2008, led an amazing life with friendships that numbered some of my literary and political heroes. He also speaks frankly about his homosexuality, lapsing into the vernacular with shocking ease.
What I enjoyed the most, perhaps, is Vidal's special brand of snark in which he lays bare the pretension of celebrity.
The audiobook was read masterfully by Jeff Cummings, who caught Vidal's particular dialect so well it was hard to remember that I wasn't listening to the man himself.
Now I am knee-deep into Vidal's "Burr." I expect I will read the entire corpus of the man's works before long.
Profile Image for Sam.
33 reviews3 followers
December 10, 2017
On hearing of Vidals death some weeks ago I felt quite sad and decided that it was time for me to pick up some more of his books. I opted for the first of his memoirs and was very glad to have done so. It is typically well written, entertaining and, even when it seems merely to resort to idle gossip about movie stars, writers, his bizarre family or life among the American ruling class with which he was associated, it seems perfectly justified as the stories within it are some of the juiciest one is ever likely to come across. Anais Nin, Marlon Brando, Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Newman, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, The Kennedy dynasty (including Jackie; his sister-in-law and former first lady of the United States), Norman Mailer et cetera. The list goes on for a while longer but I will have to be lazy and spare myself the chore of typing it.
Gores life take him from being navigator on a navy ship in the Pacific Ocean during World War Two to an esteemed writer living in peace among the Italian hills and everything in between. His life has taken him through Wars, Hollywood, into Politics and back out again to return to serious writing with his novel Julian, which is more or less where the book ends. It covers only the first thirty or forty years of Mr. Vidals incredible life and his wit is consistent throughout.
Profile Image for Patricia.
528 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2018
This has a surface of glitter and wit, written by a man who is as acerbic, clever and a great hater. I can't stay in his literary company for too long at a time and I'm glad I was never really in his company. I would never have survived. So I took my time with these memoirs and enjoyed myself. Gore Vidal can be laugh out loud funny. He is a great name dropper but it is done in a way that makes you feel that the big names are impressing other people by dropping his name into conversations. His gossip is wonderful and woe to those who fell out with him. He is a master manipulator of words and stories and Bobby Kennedy and Truman Capote especially find themselves targets. And he was certainly on the fringes of great events and famous people and mixed in societies that he could and did describe with sharply honed wit. I like him and admire his skill and intelligence. And that he can entertain so well. I am going to reread 'Julian' because I remember how much I enjoyed it once and I am about to start 'Point to Point Navigation' which is the second volume of the memoirs. So I am not ready to leave him yet.
Profile Image for David.
253 reviews7 followers
October 2, 2017
Gore Vidal had connections to a lot of famous people (Truman Capote, the Beats, Kennedys) and he liked expounding on the impressions they made in his life. He was a marvelous writer with a marvelous vocabulary but his memoir sounded like gossip. However, due to his fairly arrogant tell-it-like-he-saw-it attitude these famous people got cut down and became more real. A chapter that will stick with me described his last visit with Allen Ginsberg, who I find quite visionary, and casually detailed Ginsberg's health problems as an elderly man. The most intriguing aspects of the book are his recurring sense of nostalgia for his first love, Jimmie, and the first picture of him with his white cat.
Profile Image for Rock.
419 reviews4 followers
November 25, 2009
It begins with a retelling of the sexual perversions of John F Kennedy and Gore Vidal's memoir just keeps giving the juicy details. Unfortunately most of that juice is squeezed out of socialites and intellectuals of the 1950s, most of whom are long forgotten (except, obviously, by Vidal). Nonetheless Vidal is a born novelist who could point a reader to the fun stuff in any life, even someone far more boring than him (like Jesus Christ). And he comes up with fun devices, like excerpting passages from others' writings that involve him, and then contradicting those other writers. A particularly fun example is the night he and Jack Keruac shared that was later fictionalized by Keruac. This book will be enjoyed by everyone, especially those who enjoy Paul Newman's salad dressing.
Profile Image for Adrian.
12 reviews2 followers
May 25, 2014
I'm not a huge fan of Gore's novels, but this memoir, and to a slightly lesser extent its followup (Point to Point Navigation) is fascinating and entertaining. Gore's age, class, and profession have allowed him to be in contact with just about every important person in art, politics, and pop culture in the last century. He moves seamlessly between describing FDR's inauguration parade, his friendship with Amelia Earhart, his rivalry with Truman Capote, and his lunch with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as though these are all entirely normal series of events. He is an ideal witness to history. Very frank, both about events and personalities, as well as about the limitations of memory and perspective.
Profile Image for RunRachelRun.
291 reviews6 followers
September 7, 2010
Oops, now I've bought this book twice, probably from the same Borders on Ponce De Leon in Atlanta. I obviously didn't do a good job reading it the first time since I just picked up the paperback this weekend, skimmed it,and thought "Well, this looks like a good Labor Day weekend read" and bought it. Strangely enough, the people portrayed in this autobiography, didn't seem to work a whole lot. Perhaps the gorgon masquerading as his mothers overshadowed much of the story so I was always anxious that she'd show up again and lash out with malice and cruelty. Read this book, go kiss your mother and tell her you're the luckiest child in the world.
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