Laura Bush's memoir "Spoken from the Heart" will not appear on bookstore shelves until May 4. But at least one advance copy has been leaked to the press and some of the book's revelations are quickly making headlines.
In her memoir Bush is reported to write about the fatal car accident she was involved in as a teenager. According to The New York Times, Bush writes that on that night in November 1963, she was at the wheel of her father's car, chatting with a friend and driving too fast in haste to catch a movie. She ran a stop sign and collided with a car driven by a popular classmate named Mike Douglas.
“The whole time,” the Times says that Bush writes, “I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling ‘Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,’ over and over and over again.” But Douglas died.
She continues: “I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years. It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard. My begging, to my seventeen-year-old mind, had made no difference. The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas’s sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain.”
Bush goes on to say that she then compounded her error by not attending Douglas's funeral and by failing to reach out to his family. In her public life, she says, she now urges young drivers who have been involved in accidents to seek counsel from trusted adults – something she apparently did not do.
The Times also notes other items of interest in Bush's book. Bush suggests that she, her husband, and other members of their staff may have been poisoned when they became mysteriously ill during a G8 Summit in Germany. Apparently the mystery was never entirely unraveled and doctors could only eventually diagnose them as ill with a virus.
Bush is also reported to defend her husband at least a few times in her book. She is said to offer a spirited defense of his decision to fly over New Orleans immediately after hurricane Katrina. “He did not want one single life to be lost because someone was catering to the logistical requirements of a president,” she writes. “He did not want his convoy of vehicles to block trucks delivering water or food or medical supplies, or to impede National Guardsmen from around the nation who were arriving to help.”
She also has harsh words for Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, calling their criticisms of her husband "uncalled for and graceless." Presumably, however, such comments are infrequent. Before writing her memoir, Bush had promised that it would be a "positive" book.
How the public reacts to Bush's memoir remains to be seen. "Spoken from the Heart" is widely expected to be a big seller. Bush was not often revealing of her feelings during her husband's presidency (although many Americans were curious about her – author Curtis Sittenfeld so much so that she wrote "An American Wife," a bestselling novel based on a Laura Bush-like character.) The expectation is that many Americans will be eager to learn something of her interior life.
How they will judge Bush after reading her words will be another matter. A number of comments left on The New York Times site already run negative based on Bush's description of the accident she was involved in that night. The fact that she defended herself (mentioning the darkness of the night, the dangerousness of the intersection, and the unsafeness of the other driver's car) clearly offended some readers.
Others, however, were obviously moved by her frankness and the idea of a teenager having to live with the understanding that one moment of her own carelessness had had such dire consequences. "It could have been any of us," wrote one sympathetic reader.
Stay tuned for lots of conversation about Laura Bush. We will undoubtedly be hearing much more as the public gains access to her book next week.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.