Friday, February 5, 2010

Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley

Losing Mum and Pup: A MemoirBestselling satirist Christopher Buckley (Thank You for Smoking, Supreme Courtship) lost both his parents in 2007.  Their death was not entirely unexpected - Buckley was 55 years old, and both Mum and Pup (as he called them) were in their eighties, and in failing health.  The interesting part of this memoir is that his Pup was world-famous Conservative author, icon, television personality, and intimate of Presidents William F. Buckley, Jr.; and that his Mum was the almost equally famous society figure, charity fundraiser, extremely tall person (5', 11"), and intimate of everybody Patricia Taylor Buckley.

Together Buckley's parents dominated the world of American politics and society for more than 40 years, while raising their son (Buckley has no siblings) in a milieu comprised by everyone from Truman Capote to Henry Kissinger.  Buckley writes feelingly, honestly, and above all hilariously of his often absentee, and frequently maniacal parents.  Anecdotes illustrate death-defying father and son sailing trips around the world, as well as his mother's well-known penchant for grievously insulting friends and family members.

Where this book really shines is demonstrating the emotional complexity and ambivalence inherent in family relationships that span more than half a century.  Buckley is upfront about the fact that his relations with both parents continued to be stormy, yet affectionate, until their deaths - and he very amusingly depicts his own faults as well as his parents.  And while growing up in the relentlessly Preppy Buckley household may lack the heartwarming bathos of many family memoirs, it does not lack for very personal and intimate authenticity.

Equally involving are Buckley's thoughts and feelings regarding aging, the rituals of death in America, and his personal memories of growing up amidst many of the most famous and powerful people on the planet.  Christopher Buckley's father was a talented and enormously prolific writer (among literally thousands of published columns in National Review and other periodicals, he found time to write more than 50 books of fiction and non-fiction); the son is not so prolific (nor nearly as partisan), but his work so far demonstrates the talent that clearly runs in his blood. 

Engaging, quick-witted, and morbidly funny, this is a worthwhile read for any one who has (or has had) parents, famous or otherwise.

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