A review of The White House Mess, by Christopher Buckley
@@@ (3 out of 5)
Christopher Buckley is a very funny man. I know this not just because I’ve read a few of his books, which generally “kept me in stitches” (whatever that means), but also because I actually spent much of an evening with him a few weeks ago. He’d come to Berkeley to do a “reading” from his newest book, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, and somehow I’d been invited to introduce him to the audience of about 150 people who were there to hear him. I managed to coax out two or maybe three laughs during my introduction and the questions I later posed. He elicited — oh, maybe 600. Because this was no “reading.” Like the consummate pro he is, he didn’t actually read from the book. He simply talked extemporaneously and, later, answered questions from the audience. The man is an accomplished stand-up comedian.
The White House Mess was written and published during the Reagan Administration, after (or perhaps during) Buckley’s turn as chief speechwriter for Vice President George H. W. Bush. The book masquerades as a White House memoir — a send-up of life inside the White House that focuses on the travails of the First Famly and on the high stakes feuds among their staff. The plot revolves around an old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist coup in Bermuda, the First Son’s missing hamster, a young First Lady who aches to become a Hollywood star again, a parody of a weak-kneed and wholly unsuited Democratic President, and a collection of snobs, misfits, and alcoholics who, somehow, manage to hold down jobs in the White House. Oh, and by the way: the title refers to the dining facilities, which are called the “mess” because they’re run by the Navy.
If the foregoing paragraph hints that The White House Mess is a parody of Democratic politics, consider that hint confirmed here. Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, Jr., of National Review fame, is indeed a Republican (even though he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008).They Eat Puppies, Buckley’s latest novel, was hysterically funny. (You can read my review of it here.) The White House Mess was his first. The fact that I did NOT find it hysterically funny but only occasionally so is no doubt the result of Buckley’s writing having matured as a writer from 1986, when Mess was published, to 2012, when Puppies saw the light of day. It’s also true, of course, that the latest book dealt with fresh material that reflected today’s reality, while the earliest one deals with a time that many readers could view only as ancient history. And, of course, I’m a Democrat.