Buckley senior was a well-known conservative writer and TV host. His wife's life was devoted to her husband and to being the glamorous Mrs. Buckley. Together, they were icons of '60s cultural chic.
Christopher is a well-known author. He's a witty and agile writer and his memoir is funny, touching and fascinating. How many of us have wished we'd grown up in a family like the Buckleys', surrounded by smart and glamorous people, taking winter vacations in Gstaad, Switzerland, where dinner guests might include Princess Grace, David Niven and Ted Kennedy (and where the post-dinner activity was to go paint in a room specially set up for that), or hobnobbing with famous politicians in Washington, D.C.?
But, as Christopher points out, it wasn't always easy. His father, he says, was a Great Man and Great Men must have their way, whether it's running the TV remote control ("We watched parts of five movies last night," a friend tells him) or insisting on moving a quietly moored boat in the Caribbean, a move that ended with the boat aground in a storm on Christmas Eve. And his mother was an unrepentant fabricator who could upend a dinner party with her caustic comments.
Buckley is both sad and humorous when describing the final days of both his mother and father. Going to see his mother as she lies unconscious in the hospital, he brings some help:
"I’d brought with me a pocket copy of the book of Ecclesiastes. A line in 'Moby-Dick' lodged in my mind long ago: 'The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.' I grabbed it off my bookshelf on the way here, figuring that a little fine-hammered steel would probably be a good thing to have on this trip. I’m no longer a believer, but I haven’t quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens’s 'God Is Not Great' at deathbeds of loved ones."Christopher's memoir is filled with love but also recognition that his parents were complicated people and not saints. As his mother lays dying, he strokes her hand and is surprised to find himself saying, "I forgive you."
The New York Times excerpt is so marvelous that it makes me think I'll have to read the whole book and some of Christopher's other books as well (the film version of "Thank You for Smoking" was excellent).
A couple of links:
- Christopher Buckley narrates an audio slide show of family photos in the New York Times.
- NPR's Scott Simon interviewed Christopher Buckley yesterday on Weekend Edition.
UPDATE: Turns out not everyone is as enamored of "Mum and Pup" as I am. Howard Kurtz has an interview with Buckley in today's Washington Post that begins:
The book is not even out and already, Christopher Buckley says, he is hearing about certain Manhattan society ladies sniffing that he should "never darken their dinner table again."