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.
A baker’s dozen of my favorite novels
Fair warning: this is NOT a comprehensive list of my all-time most cherished novels. It’s merely a list of the 13 trade novels I’ve enjoyed the most among the many I’ve read and reviewed in this blog in the past three years. So, no bellyaching please, that I’ve left out Philip Roth or Leo Tolstoy or somebody else you think is the all-time greatest novelist! Please note, too, that I’m excluding the mysteries and thrillers I review as a category of their own. Which is not to deny that some of these books are thrilling in their own right.
What follows are the 13 novels in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. Each is linked to my review of the book.
Maya’s Notebook, by Isabel Allende
A 19-year-old Berkeley woman hides out on a Chilean island from the FBI and the Las Vegas criminal gang pursuing her.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
By the 23rd century, the oceans have risen by twenty feet, and only a seawall protects the city of Bangkok. Genetic engineering has run amok around the globe, leaving only the Thai Kingdom to resist the “calorie companies” that are the only source of food for most of the world.
People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
A Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist portrays the five-century history of conflict surrounding a cherished religious book, from the Spain of the Inquisition to the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, by Christopher Buckley
Political satire of the highest order. Like all superior satire, this book isn’t just funny — its droll treatment of politics in Washington and Beijing is spot-on accurate.
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
A National Book Award-winning novel about a brutal crime and its consequences on a Chippewa reservation in the Upper Midwest.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
A 19-year-old Iraq war hero on a Pentagon tour of cities around the country encounters the reality of American civilization today — and finds he doesn’t like it much.
Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh
Set in 1838, an extraordinarily rich tale of class conflict, exploitation, and forbidden love in South Asia against the background of the opium trade.
The Fear Index, by Robert Harris
Set in Geneva, this taut thriller takes the reader into the world of a brilliant American scientist who has developed mathetical formulas that make billions in profits for his hedge fund.
The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson
A novel that digs beneath the artificial veneer of life in North Korea to examine the mindless lives of its people, from the lowliest convict to the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, himself.
Stardust, by Joseph Kanon
A tense and beautifully-constructed story set in Hollywood in its heyday as the euphoria of victory in Europe and (later) in the Pacific gives way to the hysteria of the Red Scare, the Hollywood Blacklist, and the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee.
11/22/63, by Stephen King
A high school English teacher in a small Maine town is lured through a portal in time that leads directly back to September 9, 1958. Jake’s mission: to hold out until 1963 and kill Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald can assassinate JFK.
The Debba, by Avner Mandelman
A naturalized Canadian citizen, formerly a trained killer for the Israeli armed forces in the 1960s, returns to his homeland when he learns of his father’s murder in Tel Aviv. Suddenly he is pulled back into the ethically murky environment he had fled seven years earlier.
Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart
In a future USA with a tyrannical right-wing government in power and privacy a thing of the past, a hapless Russian-American seeks love in vain as New York enters into the final stage of total collapse.
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Tagged as Adam Johnson, american civilization, amitav ghosh, Avner Mandelman, Ben Fountain, berkeley woman, chippewa reservation, Christopher Buckley, Gary Shteyngart, Geraldine Brooks, Isabel Allende, Joseph Kanon, leo tolstoy, Louise Erdrich, Paolo Bacigalupi, political satire, Robert Harris, Steven King