(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

PALIMPSEST, Gore Vidal’s memoir, covers three periods of the author’s life. In the first section of the book, Vidal recounts growing up in Washington, D.C., in the 1920’s and 1930’s as grandson of Thomas Pryor Gore, United States senator from Oklahoma, and as son of Eugene Vidal, director of air commerce in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. This section also contains an account of Vidal’s love affair with Jimmie Tremble, Vidal’s fellow student at St. Albans, whose death in World War II Vidal has never gotten over.

The second section deals with Vidal’s early literary career and with writers who became Vidal’s friends and acquaintances, including Anais Nin, Tennessee Williams, George Santayana, Truman Capote, Paul Bowles, Christopher Isherwood, and Jack Kerouac.

In the final section, Vidal tells the story of those years—the 1950’s and early 1960’s—when he turned to writing for films and television and tried a career in politics. Vidal allied himself to the Kennedys (Vidal’s stepfather was also Jackie Kennedy’s stepfather) and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. The book ends in 1964 when Vidal, at age thirty-nine, returned to novel writing and moved to Italy.

Readers of Vidal’s essays will find much of what Vidal says about other writers familiar. Those looking for the sensational will find gossip about the famous, especially the Kennedys. Scholars will find that this memoir illuminates Vidal’s work - the way Vidal based characters in his historical novels on members of his family, the way Vidal’s politics derive from his grandfather Gore’s Southern populism.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. October 15, 1995, XIV, p. 3.

London Review of Books. XVII, October 19, 1995, p. 8.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 1, 1995, p. 2.

New Statesman and Society . VIII, October 27, 1995, p. 44.

The New York Times Book Review. C, October 8, 1995, p. 7.

Newsweek. CCXXVI, October 9, 1995, p. 82.

Parini, Jay, ed. Gore Vidal: Writer Against the Grain. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

San Francisco Chronicle. October 8, 1995, p. REV1.

Stengel, Richard. “Unsentimental Journey.” Time, October 9, 1995, 76.

Vanity Fair. November, 1995, p. 60.

The Washington Post Book World. XXV, October 8, 1995, p. 3.