Charles McGrath at The New York Times:
Easily the best, most entertaining book about Gore Vidal is his 1995 memoir “Palimpsest.” But with the possible exception of “In Bed With Gore Vidal,” Tim Teeman’s 2013 tell-all, “Palimpsest” is also the least reliable of the Vidal books. Vidal was a tireless self-mythologizer, and as his title suggests, that book is a layering of rememberings, re-rememberings and mis-rememberings. In his new, much sounder biography, “Empire of Self,” Jay Parini suggests that even the account of Vidal’s idyllic romance with his high school friend Jimmie Trimble, one of the touchstones of “Palimpsest” — the story of a love so perfect and unearthly that it could never be duplicated — was most likely a fabrication.
Parini was close enough to Vidal to know when not to take him at his word. An English professor at Middlebury College, he met Vidal while on sabbatical in Italy in the mid-80s, and somewhat improbably — Parini is modest, earnest, scholarly and straight, none of which could be said about Vidal — the two became friends. “It would be fair to say, in a crude way, that I was looking for a father, and he seemed in search of a son,” Parini writes, not adding that, as so often happens, the son wound up taking care of the father to a certain extent and putting up with more than he had bargained for.