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Palimpsest: A Memoir Paperback – September 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

A candid memoir of Vidal's first 40 years of life. His 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Vidal's account of his first 39 years includes his reminiscences of a host of prominent political and cultural figures.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140260897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140260892
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gore Vidal has received the National Book Award, written numerous novels, short stories, plays and essays. He has been a political activist and as Democratic candidate for Congress from upstate New York, he received the most votes of any Democrat in a half-century.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Candace Scott on August 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Gore Vidal is brilliant, witty, clever, irreverent and a marvelous writer but I was a little disappointed with this first installment of his autobiography. His life has been more multi-faceted and exciting than almost anyone elses, but in some inexplicable way the telling of his story falls short. There was adequate amounts of "juicy gossip" and the obligatory details of many sexual exploits, but true revelation and introspection is lacking.
That is curious, considering Vidal has never been shy about speaking his mind and airing his (and everyone else) dirty laundry in public. He remains one of the most gifted American writers, but his true brilliance is in writing essays, not autobiography.
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40 of 47 people found the following review helpful By L. Dann on June 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Anyone who retains an interest in the era that spawned the Kennedys, the Jet Set and the 'Beats' will enjoy Palimpset. Gore Vidal had one of the world's worst mothers; drunk, vicious and hilarious- the less related you got. She was the gorgeous daughter of a prominent Senator named Gore. After divorcing Gore's father, Gene, she married the Hughdie Auchincloss who later would wed the equally frozen and gold digging mother of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Indeed Gore and Jackie shared the same bedroom (at different times) as Hughdie's prominent but and penniless stepchildren. It was from Hughdie, according to Vidal, that he developed his lifelong passion (against?) bores. The memoir is filled with Jackie and Jack stories, that are less worn for their genuine, eye witness
accounts. Gore recalls something of the private life of those two; at Palm Beach, having cocktails after the beach, and speaks a bit of how Jackie's value had become enhanced with her husband and her raucus in-laws as she more and more captured the attention and heart of the and some would argue, the world. Previous to her rising star, we are told, Jack virtually ignored her. So much for the glamour of the mythic couple. Jackie and Gore, one-time stepsibs, would later part ways. This enmity arose from the consuming hatred between Gore and Bobby Kennedy- so combustible that a violent episode was just barely avoided at a White House official dinner.
Vidal's ill-fated runs for political office are the most boring parts of the memoir; however they're well compensated by his reminiscences over Tennessee Williams called affectionately, Bird. With his aristocratic disdain, Vidal's eye as well as his pen cut satisfyingly throughout his well-attended and celebrated life.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By reader mucho on March 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
As you would expect, this book is very well written, as anything else that Vidal writes. But if you are looking for an insightful book, this is not a book for you. His life has been, doubtless, an extraordinary life, from sitting at the opera as a child next to Mussolini to being connected through a stepfather to Jackie Kennedy-Onasis.

At the end of the day, I found this to be an anecdotical as oposed as insightful autobiography, and it seems to me, the reason for this is his lack of emotional insight in his every day life. Nothing wrong with that, but is not something I like to read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Currie on April 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Gore Vidal has written one of the most honest, revealing and entertaining memoirs I've ever encountered. It's a book that can be dipped into casually or, preferably read from the beginning to the all too soon end when he reaches the age of 39. It's full of insights into the various people he has met during those years such as Tennessee Williams , John and Jackie Kennedy, Truman Capote and other figures in the literary and entertainment world of the forties and fifties. He talks of his family, his mother whose attitudes he had to jettison; and his grandfather, the blind Senator Gore from Oklahoma of the 1910's. (He and Al are cousins) He talks of his relationships with all of these people in an almost stream of consciousness style that jumps back and forth from the distant past to the more recent past to the current writing of the book (1994). All of this comes with comments, observations and anecdotes that illumine his attitudes then and now in a way that makes the reader, who knows little or nothing of these people, a part of the audience of his experience. While that description, might sound unappealing to the regular reader of more straightlaced memoirs; rest assured that it is a formula for a most entertaining read. Of course the name-dropping can't be helped as he is part of that circle (and that's one reason we read books like this). One of the interesting aspects of his book is that he tells us what happens when he gets back in touch with people he used to know (like Allen Ginsburg), or people that knew the same people who were important to him, like the 91 year old mother of his first love. Great stuff. The leitmotif of the book is the first love of his life who was killed at Iwo Jima in 1945.Read more ›
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
What's a man to do when he's more talented than everyone else? Vidal's answers, told through the lens of his old age, are fascinating if only because the world has no other figure whose work bridges literature's twilight, pop culture's dawn and a political past when our leaders didn't seem so patently ridiculous. Gossipy, yes, but in an idiosyncratic way that lends credibility. I mean is it really malicious to have include a scene with Jackie giving douching instructions? I think not. The Truth? God knows, but that much-abused word is given a breather in this memoir, relieved of the pressure by memory's sleights of hand, readily admitted to throughout the book. Without the pressure to create an encyclopedic autobiography, Vidal leisurely rambles through his first 39 years, pausing to gaze upon an astounding collection of acquaintances. Details in the book but the effect produced is saddening on both a cultural and personal level. Culturally becuase in our compartmentalized age of "experts", wise folks with Vidal's breadth of talent can not flourish. Personally, because he feels his strength diminished, his time ending as he struggles to come to terms with a lost boyhood love. For what it's worth Gore, take your vitamins, strap on your six shooter and keep firing away
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