Losing Mum and Pup

A satirist's eye on the death of his larger than life parents: A review of Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by Christopher Buckley.

Maybe it's something about English majors. We just develop our stylistic approach, our artistic vision, and then apply it to whatever subject stumbles across our paths - no matter how improbable it might seem.

For Christopher Buckley, an English major from Yale's class of '75, that literary method has been the satire. Beginning with his novel The White House Mess, inspired by his experience as a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, Buckley has become the preeminent satirist of Washington D.C. political culture.

Other targets of his wit include tobacco (Thank You For Smoking, adapted into a terrific film in 2006,) UFOs (Little Green Men,) the Middle East (Florence of Arabia,) and the Social Security crisis (Boomsday.) His most recent book, Supreme Courtship, found itself in the unexpected position of predicting the future when it featured a central conflict between a Senator inspired by Joe Biden and a folksy, attractive, gun-toting, female conservative. The novel was finished in January of that year, long before anyone could have guessed the vice presidential contest.

Who could have predicted his next subject would be the year his famous parents Patricia and William F. Buckley, Jr. died? The passing of one of the most prominent members of New York society and her conservative icon husband is an opportunity for jokes? Yes. And brutal honesty. And surprising revelations. And humanizations. And ultimately tremendous love and respect.

Movement conservatives still irked at the son of WFB breaking with National Review and endorsing Barack Obama last year should put that grievance on hold long enough to read Losing Mum and Pup. Put simply, if you hold any affection for the person and ideas of William F. Buckley, Jr. then you are required to read this memoir by his son. It will only make you understand and cherish WFB even more.

The book is filled with a countless number of intriguing, behind-the-scenes facts about the Buckley family - tasty treats for any connoisseur of political culture. Did you know that up until his death WFB wrote all of his articles and books using WordStar, the same ancient word-processing system that he'd learned in 1983? Or how about that despite his brilliant prose style and prolific writing that his personal emails were often typo-laden messes jumbled with extra characters? Did you know that Patricia and Bill referred to each other as "Ducky"? Christopher quips, "If a transcript existed of their fifty-seven-year long marriage and you did a computer quick-find search of ‘Ducky,' you'd find 1,794,326."

Christopher also doesn't hesitate to humanize his admittedly larger-than-life parents. His mother could be a pathological liar, inventing wild stories merely to amuse herself and start drama at dinner parties. His father could be dangerously reckless. Many chapters of Losing Mum and Pup recount WFB the famous sailor foolishly risking his family's life, taking his boat out into hurricanes. Christopher also recalls a father who could be often shockingly inconsiderate. He recounts an episode in which WFB got bored at his son's Yale graduation:

Pup's legendary impatience - a trait among the Great - could sometimes be, well, maddening. Ten minutes into my college graduation ceremony, he got bored and rounded up the family and friends in attendance and whisked them off to lunch at what we now call an "undisclosed location," leaving me to spend my graduation day wandering the campus in search of my family. I ended up having my graduation lunch alone, at the Yankee Doodle Diner. When I confronted him back home, grinding my back molars, he merely said airily, "I just assumed you had other plans." Pup - on my graduation day? He could be a bit aloof that way.

These flaws and shortcomings are important to be revealed. It's in the deification of our political leaders that we often run into trouble. Understanding WFB as man, not god, makes him and the ideas he advocated for decades all the more engaging.

The book is also instructive and comforting for those in a similar situation to Christopher. As Losing Mum and Pup progresses Christopher finds himself in a painful position: having to become a parent to the one who raised you. As WFB's health and mind begin to really go down hill Christopher must step in and start making care giving decisions and insisting that his father take specific courses of action.

If the year began with a must-read memoir about the deaths of two prominent figures in the political culture then it will end with another of an all but unknown who, one hopes, will finally after her death receive the attention that the beauty of her life demands.  

This fall another English major (Columbia '59) and prominent political observer will apply his own unique approach to coming to terms with the death of his daughter. Arriving in October from Regnery, look out for David Horowitz's newest book, A Cracking of the Heart: A Requiem for My Daughter. (For a taste of the themes that will be explored read Horowitz's eulogy here.)

Horowitz isn't a satirist dishing witticisms, though. The book most resembles his tone in Radical Son and The End of Time - quiet, philosophical, meditative, often sorrowful. And just as Losing Mum and Pup took Buckley into exciting new territory, truly showing his range as a writer while maintaining the voice he's already developed, A Cracking of the Heart will also take Horowitz's readers places they've never gone before. Look for it this fall.

David Swindle is a writer, film critic, and blogger. He lives in Muncie, Indiana with his wife, artist April Bey. Email him at DavidSwindle[@]gmail.com.
A satirist's eye on the death of his larger than life parents: A review of Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by Christopher Buckley.

Maybe it's something about English majors. We just develop our stylistic approach, our artistic vision, and then apply it to whatever subject stumbles across our paths - no matter how improbable it might seem.

For Christopher Buckley, an English major from Yale's class of '75, that literary method has been the satire. Beginning with his novel The White House Mess, inspired by his experience as a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, Buckley has become the preeminent satirist of Washington D.C. political culture.

Other targets of his wit include tobacco (Thank You For Smoking, adapted into a terrific film in 2006,) UFOs (Little Green Men,) the Middle East (Florence of Arabia,) and the Social Security crisis (Boomsday.) His most recent book, Supreme Courtship, found itself in the unexpected position of predicting the future when it featured a central conflict between a Senator inspired by Joe Biden and a folksy, attractive, gun-toting, female conservative. The novel was finished in January of that year, long before anyone could have guessed the vice presidential contest.

Who could have predicted his next subject would be the year his famous parents Patricia and William F. Buckley, Jr. died? The passing of one of the most prominent members of New York society and her conservative icon husband is an opportunity for jokes? Yes. And brutal honesty. And surprising revelations. And humanizations. And ultimately tremendous love and respect.

Movement conservatives still irked at the son of WFB breaking with National Review and endorsing Barack Obama last year should put that grievance on hold long enough to read Losing Mum and Pup. Put simply, if you hold any affection for the person and ideas of William F. Buckley, Jr. then you are required to read this memoir by his son. It will only make you understand and cherish WFB even more.

The book is filled with a countless number of intriguing, behind-the-scenes facts about the Buckley family - tasty treats for any connoisseur of political culture. Did you know that up until his death WFB wrote all of his articles and books using WordStar, the same ancient word-processing system that he'd learned in 1983? Or how about that despite his brilliant prose style and prolific writing that his personal emails were often typo-laden messes jumbled with extra characters? Did you know that Patricia and Bill referred to each other as "Ducky"? Christopher quips, "If a transcript existed of their fifty-seven-year long marriage and you did a computer quick-find search of ‘Ducky,' you'd find 1,794,326."

Christopher also doesn't hesitate to humanize his admittedly larger-than-life parents. His mother could be a pathological liar, inventing wild stories merely to amuse herself and start drama at dinner parties. His father could be dangerously reckless. Many chapters of Losing Mum and Pup recount WFB the famous sailor foolishly risking his family's life, taking his boat out into hurricanes. Christopher also recalls a father who could be often shockingly inconsiderate. He recounts an episode in which WFB got bored at his son's Yale graduation:

Pup's legendary impatience - a trait among the Great - could sometimes be, well, maddening. Ten minutes into my college graduation ceremony, he got bored and rounded up the family and friends in attendance and whisked them off to lunch at what we now call an "undisclosed location," leaving me to spend my graduation day wandering the campus in search of my family. I ended up having my graduation lunch alone, at the Yankee Doodle Diner. When I confronted him back home, grinding my back molars, he merely said airily, "I just assumed you had other plans." Pup - on my graduation day? He could be a bit aloof that way.

These flaws and shortcomings are important to be revealed. It's in the deification of our political leaders that we often run into trouble. Understanding WFB as man, not god, makes him and the ideas he advocated for decades all the more engaging.

The book is also instructive and comforting for those in a similar situation to Christopher. As Losing Mum and Pup progresses Christopher finds himself in a painful position: having to become a parent to the one who raised you. As WFB's health and mind begin to really go down hill Christopher must step in and start making care giving decisions and insisting that his father take specific courses of action.

If the year began with a must-read memoir about the deaths of two prominent figures in the political culture then it will end with another of an all but unknown who, one hopes, will finally after her death receive the attention that the beauty of her life demands.  

This fall another English major (Columbia '59) and prominent political observer will apply his own unique approach to coming to terms with the death of his daughter. Arriving in October from Regnery, look out for David Horowitz's newest book, A Cracking of the Heart: A Requiem for My Daughter. (For a taste of the themes that will be explored read Horowitz's eulogy here.)

Horowitz isn't a satirist dishing witticisms, though. The book most resembles his tone in Radical Son and The End of Time - quiet, philosophical, meditative, often sorrowful. And just as Losing Mum and Pup took Buckley into exciting new territory, truly showing his range as a writer while maintaining the voice he's already developed, A Cracking of the Heart will also take Horowitz's readers places they've never gone before. Look for it this fall.

David Swindle is a writer, film critic, and blogger. He lives in Muncie, Indiana with his wife, artist April Bey. Email him at DavidSwindle[@]gmail.com.