Within a period of one year both Christopher Buckley's mother and father died. Patricia Taylor Buckley was a legendary socialite of classic beauty notorious for her cuttingly sharp wit. William F. Buckley, Jr. was the famous public intellectual, founder of the conservative magazine National Review, and host of the TV series Firing Line the "father" of the modern conservative movement. Losing Mum and Pupr, by the couple's only child, is a memoir the 54-year-old novelist and satirist Christopher Buckley had "pretty much resolved not to write". But write the book Buckley did, in just 40 days.
Buckley the author felt compelled to write the book: "I find myself, as the funereal dust settles and the flowers dry, wanting needing, perhaps more accurately to try to make sense of it and put the year to rest, as I did my parents." Buckley the narrator has the articulate, nuanced, and friendly voice of a popular professional writer at ease in front of the microphone and audiences large and small.
What really makes this book exceptional is the successful mix of the accounts of illnesses, deaths, and the sorrows of loss with the author's satirical signature: "[I]f at any point you hear a whimpering of oh, poor little me, just chuck this book right into the wastebasket or better yet, take it back and exchange it for a fresh paperback copy of Running with Scissors." And throughout, we are hearing the genuine Christopher Buckley: "My other hope is that the book will be, despite its not exactly upbeat subject matter, a celebration...of two extraordinary people, my Mum and Pup; and that it will be worthy of them, even if some parts of it would no doubt appall them."
The "appall them" qualifier is apt: what no doubt would appall his parents has turned off a number of readers and critics. Buckley publicly exposes his parent's flaws...and then some. The most extreme of these public exposures is Buckley's accounts of his ailing and failing father's habit of urinating in public places.
So how does the author succeed in honoring his parents even as he so publicly exposes their flaws? Well, Buckley's parents were exceptional, public individuals, and the events he describes flattering or not all coincided with deep and residing love. Thus, even as the author speaks of the "public outpouring and the tears of the people who loved them and mourn them and miss them", he adds, "none more than their son, even if at times I was tempted to pack them off to earlier graves".
Buckley successfully navigates the sensitive topics of his parents' flaws with his humorist ironic sensibilities and an intangible quality of his writing that, in his audio narration, takes on a palpable reality. David Chasey