Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Christopher Buckley has penned one of the funniest, sweetest, most sincere memoirs I've ever read. Losing Mum and Pup is about the terrible year in which Buckley lost both his mother and his father to infirmity and disease. This would be a moving enough story (since most of us will be predeceased by our parents), but the identity of his parents makes it even more interesting. He is the son of famous New York socialite and hostess Patricia Buckley and "Lion of the Right" William F. Buckley Jr. (thankfully, referred to as WFB throughout the book).
This is a multi-layered story, with each layer affecting the reader in a different way. Part of this is a biographical sketch of Pat and WFB, both of whom come across as hilarious, in a 'maddening-if-they-were-your-parents' kind of way. Pat makes up facts and statistics to win 'discussions' with dinner guests. WFB is impatient and self-assured enough to take his son sailing in a hurricane ("We'll have a brisk sail" was WFB's attitude about the weather). I actually found myself laughing out loud more often than I have while reading David Sedaris.
This is also a story of a very close-knit family whose members - Christopher is an only child - love each other deeply without being particularly demonstrative about the fact. Even when Christopher is writing scolding letters to his mother, or remembering that his dad left in the middle of his graduation ceremony ("I just assumed you had other plans" - WFB), he is exasperated and loving, not bitter and angry.
His description of trying to parent his increasingly erratic parents will resonate with anyone who has tried to talk a sick parent or grandparent into taking their medicine, giving up smoking, doing what the nurse tells them and not wandering outside in nothing but their underwear. A weak, disoriented WFB is a new experience for his son Christopher, and on top of his anxiety about his father's health there is the confusion of not knowing how to interact with this new persona.
Overall, this is a wonderful book full of bewildering funeral expenses, dinner parties and celebrity guests, marital sparring, larger-than-life behavior, funny anecdotes, sorrow and grief. Buckley writes with humor, humility and an eye for realism. He grieves his loss, but you can sense that he's aware of how lucky he was to have such a relationship with his parents. Highly recommended.

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