Christopher Buckley: Funny ha-ha, and funny strange


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A review of No Way To Treat a First Lady, by Christopher Buckley

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Humor is a funny  thing. Not long ago I introduced Christopher Buckley to an audience of about 100 people in Berkeley. (No, I didn’t go to Yale with him. This was solely on the strength of having given favorable reviews to several of his novels.) Buckley spoke off the cuff rather than read from his writing, and I found him hilarious. So did about half the audience. Some seemed to be on the verge of falling off their chairs from time to time. But the other half of the audience sat stone-faced, often with arms crossed and eyes darting right and left, apparently waiting for a chance to sneak out of the room.

All this is to say that I read No Way to Treat a First Lady, laughing all the way — and maybe you won’t. Whenever as a child I told my mother that something was funny, she would ask, “Funny ha-ha, or funny strange?” Well, this one is a little of both. No Way to Treat a First Lady tells the tale of a philandering President and a long-suffering wife who has, apparently, murdered him in his sleep. See what I mean?

Christopher Buckley’s humor is grounded in such situations, not too many steps removed from reality. Don’t get me wrong. The leading characters in this novel in no way resemble two recent residents of the White House. And the supporting cast would be a better fit in a Marx Brothers film than in today’s Washington, DC: the best criminal defense lawyer money can buy, who incidentally was the jilted law-school lover of the First Lady; a blonde Court TV superstar, who is the current, much-younger squeeze of the self-important defense lawyer; bumbling rival trial attorneys; and a motley assortment of FBI and Secret Service agents and White House hangers-on. Even so, you can practically see them behind today’s headlines.

I won’t spoil the story by summarizing the plot, which is deliciously complex and as full of surprises as a best-selling thriller. You deserve the chance to discover it on your own.

Forewarned, then, that I think Christopher Buckley is one of the funniest writers currently walking the planet, I commend you to my previous reviews of his books: Little Green Men, Florence of Arabia, The White House Mess, and They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? If you read (or have read) these reviews, you know that I don’t think they’re all equally good — Florence of Arabia, for example, was just a little too real for me.

Pretty soon I’m going to run out of Buckley’s books, and I’ll just have to start reading them all over again.

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Filed under Humor, Trade Fiction

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