three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-Losing Mum and PupChristopher Buckley is the author of several satirical novels and other books, including Thank You for Smoking, Boomsday, and Supreme Courtship ( 3 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2008).

The Topic: Any of the members of the Buckley family would have merited his or her own book, but Christopher, son of conservative intellectual William and New York socialite Pat, builds his memoir around the year in which both of his parents passed, 2007 to 2008. Thus while it contains many memories of his life with his parents (and without—Christopher claims that much of his raising was "elaborately subcontracted" out to others), much of the focus is funerary. As an only child, Christopher must take care of his father after his mother dies, but he sometimes goes against their wishes in arranging their affairs and gradually comes to grips with his role as decision maker. If this all sounds morbid, keep in mind that Buckley is a satirist at heart, so it is also morbidly humorous.
Twelve. 251 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0446540943

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Is there any better gift to a writer than an improbable parent? … Most contemporary memoirs fall into one of two camps: Far too long and way too short. Losing Mum and Pup is decidedly the latter." Karen Heller

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"With Boomers writing depressing memoirs about their miserable childhoods, dysfunctional marriages, collapsing bodies and elderly, infirm parents, Buckley’s remembrance of his famous folks is refreshingly different." Deirdre Donahue

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The memoir provoked by [the Buckleys’] lives and deaths is loving, exasperated and very funny. In its moments of real ambivalence, Losing Mum and Pup is surprisingly strong drink. … The author knows that portions of his new book ‘would no doubt appall’ his parents." Thomas Mallon

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As testimony to what Pat and Bill Buckley were really like, the book bears supreme witness and delivers many laughs; as an account of what it’s like to watch one’s parents suffer and die, it is moving to the point of tears. Still, there is something troubling about this book, a sense that it is unduly unkind to—and thus unworthy of—its subjects." James Rosen

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Although it has its moving moments, don’t expect anything with the resonance of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking or Calvin Trillin’s About Alice. Buckley’s default mode is parody—he describes himself as ‘someone who makes raspberries at the cosmos’—and he rarely resists a quip." Heller McAlpin

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The events described in this book are enough to saddle an otherwise punctilious writer with metaphors that are as mixed as his emotions. Read it and chortle. Read it and weep." Janet Maslin

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Control and the confessional impulse abide uneasily in a single manuscript, which is what makes this memoir—for all its apparent candor—hollow and unsatisfying. Christopher Buckley is curiously silent, for example, concerning the influence of his outsized parents and their melodramatic marriage on his own somewhat messy personal life." Timothy Rutten

Critical Summary

Reviewers’ reactions to Losing Mum and Pup seemed to depend largely on the stake they had in the Buckleys and their legacy. Many critics did not care very much about whether William and Pat were actually the way Christopher describes. For them, the book was a refreshing take on parental loss that deviated from the usual clichés. But readers who knew the Buckleys, even if it was only through William’s writing, found parts of the memoir to be petty and unfair, though most still enjoyed the book as a whole. For both groups, though, Losing Mum and Pup fascinated because of the uniqueness of its characters who, despite their reputation as storytellers, are the kind of people you just can’t make up.