“Palmipsest”–a personal history

Vidal, Gore. “Palimpsest”, Penguin, 1996.

A Personal History

Amos Lassen

To write a good and interesting memoir, one has to have led as life of excitement and Gore Vidal has. He gives an inside view of his life until he reached the age of 39. During those years he was part of American history and stepped fully into the culture of those years. He is step-brother to the late first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy and he seems to have known everyone of any importance from playwright Tennessee Williams to another first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. He has become an icon of culture and good taste, totally suave and sophisticated. As a gay male he has been labeled but he has managed to rise above that. From Vida, we all get to read about the society in which he lives and is a part of and which is so lucky to have him. More than just a memoir, it is a witness to history.

Vidal’s life reads like a roller coaster ride. At 18 he fell in love with a boy who was killed in World War II and he decided that love was not his cup of tea and swore to never love again. He decided to never fall in love again and to settle for just sex with no emotional involvement. His honest and revealing life story entertains through out. I find myself looking back into every once in a while for sheer pleasure. His family is fascinating from his relationship to his step sister, his mother with her attitudes toward him, his grandfather, a blind Senator named Gore that gave him family ties to former vice president Al Gore. He writes of these people in the stream of consciousness and goes from past to present at will and everything is commented upon. He has been a mainstay in the literary world since he entered in 1945 and one of the highlights of the book is when he goes back to find former friends like poet Allen Ginsberg and the mother of his lover who was killed. He attempts to recover what he lost and when he writes of his boy who was killed at Iwo Jima, he is bigger than life and extremely human. That death has haunted his life and by putting in on the page, he is relieved of some of his personal pain.

As an author Vidal has turned out 24 novels, two memoirs, five plays, 13 essay collections and a book of short story. He is indeed prolific and no stranger to best-seller lists. His wit and personal wisdom are his trademarks and his calling cards. He both loves and hates the United States. He exaggerates to make a point and makes what might not seem to be interesting to be of major importance. His opinions are wonderful even if not to your liking. His disdain is aristocratic and snobbish and wonderful. As he winds and turns through his personal history he evokes a bittersweet life.

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