Gore Vidal is a slick novelist, impressive essayist, and perfect bitch. All three of these skills come in handy in his memoir, Palimpsest. The gossip in it is rivetingly indiscreet; the nonfiction writing—as in descriptions of places and people he was indifferent to— evocative and entertaining; and the fiction —as in accounts of himself—smooth to the point of slipperiness. Palimpsest is, apparently, a collaboration. A picture at the beginning shows Vidal with a white cat crouching on his shoulder. The caption reads, “The memoirist in 1992. I am about to start writing this book in Ravello, aided by the white cat.” And indeed, reversing the formula, he got the cat’s tongue. A dubious proposition as a memoir, Palimpsest is awesome as a catty gossip column.

There are, to be sure, many ways to write a memoir—almost as many, I should think, as...

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