Monday, September 3, 2012

An absorbing memoir by Gore Vidal

Point to Point Navigation by Gore Vidal
Published in 2006, Vintage Books (A Division of Random House, Inc.)

In Gore Vidal’s second memoir, Point to Point Navigation, the late playwright Tennessee Williams is quoted in a letter to a friend commenting on Vidal’s third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948). Says Williams: “There is not really a distinguished line in the book and yet a great deal of it has a curious life-like quality.”

This sentence could not more accurately sum up my impression of Vidal’s Point to Point Navigation, a disjointed and uneven memoir that could have benefited from a bit more planning and editing, but whose journey is completely absorbing. The book is, at times, acerbic, gossipy, erratic and discursive, but it’s vintage Vidal.

Throughout his long and productive life as a novelist, essayist, and a screenwriter for stage, TV and film, Vidal was a dedicated self-promoter who never shied away from cameras or controversy. He understood the power of media and used it extensively to promote his views about history, politics, academia, sexuality and religion.

Vidal also understood the power of celebrity in our star-obsessed culture, and in Point to Point Navigation, he serves up a glittering tapestry of famous people whom he knew and befriended throughout his life, including Truman Capote, Greta Garbo, Rudolph Nureyev, Paul Newman, Tennessee Williams, the Kennedys, Johnny Carson and Francis Ford Coppola.

Throughout the writing of Point to Point Navigation, Vidal must have been aware that his time was running out (he died on July 31, 2012). A year prior to starting this memoir, he had lost his long-time partner, Howard Austen, to cancer. The pain of that loss, combined with a lingering sense of his own mortality, gives the book a sense of gloominess and poignancy. Interestingly, many of his recollections about famous people are focused on, or near, the end of their lives as well.

Is this a book for everyone? No. If you are acquainted with Gore Vidal’s work (particularly his historical novels or his essays), then I would recommend Point to Point Navigation, but read Palimpsest first. This slim memoir should not serve as an entry-point, but rather as complement to, Vidal’s many works of fiction and non-fiction.

It’s not hyperbole to declare that Vidal was one of the finest prose stylists of the 20th century, and for the true Vidal aficionado, this book is a fitting end to a remarkable literary career that spanned six and a half decades. 

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