cover image Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal

Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal

Jay Parini. Doubleday, $35 (480p) ISBN 978-0-385-53756-8

Acclaimed biographer Parini (Robert Frost: A Life) draws on his 30 years of friendship and conversation with Gore Vidal (1925–2012), as well as on deep archival research, to offer a simultaneously admiring and candid portrait. With an elegance worthy of Vidal himself, Parini gracefully chronicles Vidal’s life from his childhood (he lived in a world of fantasies shaped by the movies he saw to escape his parents’ constant fighting and eventual divorce) and teenage years (he was a poor student, but always felt the siren song of writing) to the publication of his first novel, Williwaw, in 1946, and his struggles with and eventual acceptance of his homosexuality. As famous for his friends as for his writing, Vidal rubbed shoulders with Eleanor Roosevelt and John and Jacqueline Kennedy, and feuded with William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer. Parini nimbly explores Vidal’s fiction—from the controversial Myra Breckinridge to the historical novels Lincoln, Burr, and Julian—and nonfiction, such as Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson. Vidal emerges as a brave and provocative political observer, yet a shy man, who, as Parini observes, wore the “elaborately contrived mask of Gore Vidal.” Parini’s access to Vidal and his thoughtful reflections on him establish this as the definitive biography of a major writer. Agent: Geri Thoma, Writers House. (Oct.)