I share little in common with the Buckley family and from what I can tell, it’s highly unlikely that our social circles would ever intersect (or that I’d be friends with them if I did happen to meet them), but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this memoir.
Christopher Buckley’s writing is clear and smooth and a pleasure to read, although the beginning of the book is a little more so on all counts than it was as the book progressed (e.g., he repeated phrases that I thought were amusing/cute/witty the first time but which lost their luster with repetition). Overall, though, he did a very good job of drawing me into his experience of finding himself, rather suddenly, a grown-up orphan.
The biggest connection I have with the story is probably the sticky and nuanced nature of the parent-child relationship. I will not go into detail about my relationship with my own parents, but I will say that Buckley does an admirable job of showing how the people we love can be some of the most challenging people to…well…love. My parents bear little resemblance to the senior Buckleys, but I can certainly relate to the dynamic Christopher Buckley describes.
Another element that drew me through the book was a sense of there being so much more between the lines of this memoir. I tried to imagine what it would have been like growing up in the Buckley household and dining with Norman Mailer or having Nancy Reagan as a houseguest or rubbing elbows with Kennedys. I admit, I read into the distance Buckley seems to describe between himself and his parents and made comparisons with the lack of contact he seems to have with his own wife and children (the idea of taking off for Switzerland while grieving for a parent rather than clinging to my husband and children is a fairly foreign one to me, and not just because I still don’t have a passport). Memoir does invite a bit of armchair psychoanalysis, I think, wondering about the reliability of the narrator and about his choice of what to include as well as what to omit.
A surprising piece in all of this is the practical advice. Buckley’s candid about the costs associated with burying one’s parents, and he suggests, among other things, having parents pre-negotiate funeral expenses. Not sure how I would broach this topic with my folks, but it’s an interesting idea and one I’d not even considered.
It’s likely that someone with better knowledge of or interest in the Buckley family might get something different out of this book, but I think it says something that a reader coming to this book with neither (knowledge nor interest) felt a connection to the people in it.
A favorite quote about Buckley’s experience of writing the memoir:
“Writing it (I suspect) was intended to enable catharsis; now, as I reach the end, it seems to me that I may have written it out of a more basic need: as an excuse to spend more time with them before letting them go—if, indeed, one ever really lets them go.”