“The chic and stunning” Pat Buckley could also be mercurial and meretricious – once viciously turning on her granddaughter’s best friend at a party. Meanwhile, the conservative icon continued on a trip while his child spent weeks in the hospital and he once wrote the head of the Catholic boarding school Christopher attended to make sure the teen wasn’t engaging in a homosexual affair. (He wasn’t.)
But in Losing Mum and Pup, humorist Christopher Buckley instead offers an affectionate portrait of his larger-than-life parents and a glimpse of the exhausting year in which he lost both of them. “Writing it (I suspect) was intended to enable catharsis; now, as I reach the end, it seems to me that I may have written out of a more basic need: as an excuse to spend more time with them...” Buckley writes.
There’s a generous heart to the book and a genuine affection infuses even the most infuriating anecdotes. And Buckley balances dark chapters spent in hospitals against his parents’ earlier exploits. Any time his dad gets in a vehicle – car, plane, or especially sailboat – hilarity ensues.
“Losing Mum and Pup” is not intended to be a comprehensive biography of the elder Buckley. Nor does it fall in the woe-is-me category of memoir, where every hurt is presented for a reader to tsk over. In fact, it’s clear that Buckley is leaving out a lot.
This memoir is best read as a wake in words, where two outsized personalities are wittily celebrated by someone who sincerely loved them, foibles and all.
In terms of concrete advice, Buckley chooses sparingly. One is financial: Have your parents make their funeral arrangements beforehand (which can save a family thousands of dollars) or die in Belfast, Maine. (Ditto.) The other is aesthetic: “A twenty minute eulogy, unless composed by a) William Shakespeare, b) Winston Churchill, or c) Mark Twain, is 16 minutes too long.”
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews books for the Monitor.