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.
Vidal brings his skills to bear telling the almost true story of his life. Up front he admits that any story based on memory will not be the absolute truth. Hence the name of the book (Palimpsest – meaning parchment prepared for writing on and wiping off again.) This affectation gets overused and does not frame the book as well as the author may have liked. In particular, his use of the word to indicate where he may have rewritten passages (to either get them right or to ignore them). And the author constantly derides others for not being accurate in their memories while he openly (again, the name of the book) admits his memory cannot always be correct.
But the book rises above these minor issues. Actually, the author rises above these issues. Because Vidal keeps us reading, even as we feel it may be a guilty pleasure. And just about the time I would start to think things were slowing down, he would shamelessly throw out another name (Kennedy, anyone? Anais Nin? Eleanor Roosevelt? Capote?) and drag me back in. At the end of it all – an engrossing telling of Vidal’s life the way Vidal remembers it.
This is the first part of his memoirs and it is really good (far better than the second half). Good writing on being "gay" (Vidal thinks everyone's on a sliding scale sexually, so he doesn't appreciate absolutist sexual identities) and being privileged (but not rich) in the WWII and postwar era.
Lots of interesting people pass through, but Vidal's not just namedropping.
And of course lots of interesting (and disputable) observations about Washington and American politics.
One of the best books of its kind that I've ever read.