Christopher Buckley’s memoir of his parents’ last days, Losing Mum and Pup, is already causing indigestion in some circles. The NY Times ran a (very good) distillation this past weekend. Or if you just want the scandalous bits, see Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post. Certain pundits, such as David Klinghoffer in a particularly nasty post, think that CB’s portrait of his folks is downright disrespectful, particularly for revealing that WFB was taking a lot of drugs — Stilnox and Ritalin — and contemplated suicides in the months leading up to his death (of natural causes, I hasten to add). Rod Dreher is a little more sympathetic to CB, but thinks he characterizes his mother as ” a mean, lying bitch” — which is not at all how the book read to me. Patricia Taylor Buckley, whom I never met, was renowned as a strong-willed and sometimes mischievous woman, not to mention a defiant Pat Buchanan supporter. Her son couldn’t reasonably paint her as a shrinking violet.
The book, which I picked up last weekend, is as breezy a read as CB’s novels, something that’s a little disconcerting given the subject matter. It’s not a work of deep philosophical reflection — or even casual reflection — on grief, death, or father-son relationships. (The book opens with Pat’s death; the rest recounts WFB’s final months.) The book was written more for Christopher Buckley’s benefit than the reader’s. Fair enough: CB is forthright about that. His reader gets a book that’s enjoyable in its own right and gives a sense of WFB and Pat Buckley as human beings rather than right-wing statuary. I can’t see cause for complain in that. Christopher is clearly devoted to both of his parents, who just as clearly were sometimes difficult to get along with. I expect, if anything, CB has erred on the side of filial piety. If Losing Mum and Pup is controversial, I can only imagine Sam Tanenhaus’s forthcoming WFB biography will cause apoplexy. What the movement types demand is unvarnished hagiography. Good for Christopher Buckley that he refused to give it to ’em.
(P.S.: For an antidote to Klinghoffer, see John Coyne’s appreciative Washington Times review.)