In his memoir, Palimpsest, Gore Vidal remembers writing The City and the Pillar: “An editor at Dutton told me that if the book were published, I was in for 20 years of bad reviews, and my literary reputation would be finished for good.” Fat chance. The only thing his third novel—about homosexual love and obsession—finished was Vidal’s chance for a successful political career. The grandson of a blind senator, the son of West Point’s first aviation instructor, Vidal, like the Great Gatsby, is his own creation: at various times the poor little rich boy, butch warrant officer, gentleman cruiser, master of political dish, Hollywood star-fucker, and, always, superb writer. His novels range from fully realized historical fictions (Lincoln, Burr) to mad, gay fantasias (Myra Breckinridge, Live From Golgotha), his screenplays from the grotesque (the cannibalistic Suddenly, Last Summer) to the epic (Ben-Hur), his plays from sci-fi satire (Visit to a Small Planet) to political spoof (The Best Man). All are worthwhile efforts, all compulsively entertaining. Vidal’s latest, the novel The Smithsonian Institution, is set in Washington in 1939 and tracks the time-traveling adventures of a St. Alban’s student (Vidal himself attended the posh boys school) as he works to change the course of historical events. When the boy is deflowered by Mrs. Grover Cleveland’s wax dummy come to life, you know you’re in vintage Vidal territory. The author returns home to read at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the National Press Club Ballroom, 14th & K Sts. NW. $5. Tickets available at area Olsson’s Books & Records. For information call (202) 347-3686. (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa)