Losing Mum and Pup

Christopher Buckley’s affectionate portrait of his larger-than-life parents.

Losing Mum and Pup By Christopher Buckley Twelve 272 pp., $24.99

In even slightly bitter hands, a memoir of life as the only child of William F. Buckley Jr. and Patricia Buckley could easily have been titled, “With Parents Like These, Who Needs Enemies?”

“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.

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