I admire much of Vidal's fiction--- not so much the historical bestsellers like Burr and Lincoln, where he's so busy trying to shock us with the behavior of our elders that it gets in the way of his characters, or Myra Breckenridge, an artifact of the Sixties which fails to escape its decade, but the works that grapple with humanity as well as history, like Washington, D.C., possibly the best political novel ever written, and the magnificent Creation, which I wish I'd written myself.
Along the way I have also enjoyed his science fiction novel The Smithsonian Institution, admittedly a trifle, in which time travel rescues Vidal's great love, Jimmy Trimble, from death on Iwo Jima. If the book had been in genre it would have taken the science a little more seriously, but by the end I was impressed by Vidal's genre-riffic mastery of technobabble. It also contains the unforgettable line: "Beware Mrs. Grover Cleveland. She is a notorious chicken hawk."
Vidal's earlier memoir, Palimpsest, is superior to the present work in that it has a character arc--- it's about how Gore Vidal became Gore Vidal. In this latest, Gore Vidal is already formed at the start, so the book is about Gore Vidal being Gore Vidal, and how much you enjoy it depends on your tolerance for rambling anecdotes about the famous and for Vidal's cynical take on American politics.
For myself, I've always been refreshed by Vidal's straightforward claim that (1) the USA is an Empire, and (2) that it has a ruling class, into which he, Vidal, was born (but which he consistently betrays). What other writer could crack the facade of the suave William Buckley, and produce the following threat: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."
Class, Vidal wrote somewhere, is the most difficult subject for American writers to deal with as it is the most difficult for the English to avoid. Vidal did not avoid the subject.
[For the record, Vidal's family has been involved in American politics since the 1690s, his grandfather was Senator T.P. Gore, his father was FDR's air minister and the founder of three airlines, he's the sort-of stepbrother of Jacqueline Onassis, and he's run one time each for congress and the senate. He counts Jimmy Carter and Al Gore among his cousins.]
I had almost missed Point-to-Point Navigation, because I'd made the mistake of reading the reviews, which condemned the book for its rambling structure, its repetetiveness, its politics, and the relentless name-dropping. The book is repetetive--- it could have used a good copy-editor--- but the politics, sexual and imperial, give it spice; and its rambling structure is perfectly suited to Vidal's life, style, and lifestyle, all of which admirably evade consistency. As for the name-dropping, it's not Vidal's fault that he's not a pleb, and that he was on first-name basis with the Kennedys, Tennessee Williams, Princess Margaret, and Federico Fellini. Perhaps the celebrity anecdotes would have been tiresome if I'd read them all in one go, but since I was listening during trips to the supermarket or to the library, I found them tasty.
And Vidal has always had bad reviews, because he's always had enemies. Academe disliked him because he became a major literary figure without ever having gone to college. Time and Life hated him because they thought he was anti-American. The New York Times condemned him for decades for his unconventional sexuality. In his essays, Vidal his given as good as he's got, or better. It helps that he's in his mid-eighties now, and has outlived most of his enemies. (Throughout both his sets of memoirs, he peers into other people's autobiographies and zestfully tries sets the record straight.)
As I listened, I mostly spent my time chuckling at the Vidal wit, but occasionally he produces a passage that just knocked me flat. One of these is his his clear-eyed account of the death of Howard Auster, his companion for fifty-odd years. It's a piece of prose that most writers would give a decade of their lives to have written.
As for the Vidal wit, there are many examples online, but in P-t-P N he modifies his earlier statement, "Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television." He would not give this advice, he says, in the age of HIV, or its electronic equivalent, Fox News.