Sunday, July 6, 2008

"an american family: the buckleys" book review

i should note, at the outset, "an american family: the buckleys," by reid buckley, wasn't the book i had expected to read! with a young william f. buckley, jr., front and center on the cover, quarter-backing a touch football scrimmage reminiscent of a similar kennedy family clan photo opportunity, i seriously expected more coverage of william f. buckley, jr., and his life, in specific, and the buckley clan and its adventures, in general. sadly, reid buckley's book provides neither.

instead, there is plenty of coverage of william f. buckley, senior. almost one-half of the book is devoted to a non-linear exposition of his life. and almost all of the second half, to aloise buckley, his wife. this is primarily a book about the parents and their generation. but of bill buckley, the son (and author's older brother)? reid devotes more print coverage, it seems, to the lunch he, his mother and aunt had with norman mailer in the early 1970's than he does to his brother. the same seems true about the reid's coverage of his siblings. while he does introduce us to his brothers, sisters, and in-laws, it's not with full biographical portraits of them.

what reid buckley does give us is a book primarily concerned with the truly fascinating life of his father (and, to a lesser extent, mother). the assembled stories of his father's adventures in the early days of oil and gas exploration, in mexico (and the southern united states in general), and how he managed to raise the buckley clan in good times and bad (both extremes, in his business, at turns) are very enjoyable. i'm not sure how he decided to arrange the material because it wasn't done in a straightforward, chronological manner. some of the more interesting and exotic vignettes about his father life struck me as the mexican ones - culminating, it seemed, with his dangerous encounters with pancho villa.

the only cavil i have about reid's writing style is the annoying habit he had of referring to his father as "sire!" once, maybe, twice and beyond? after the second "sire," either it should be mr. ed, or some other refined equine, providing the narrative. we humans should stick with the more prosaic "father." but not "dad," or other familiar variations of address, which he specifically ruled out as anathema at the outset. aside from that bit of nit-picking, he write well and one can certainly see flashes of his more prolific brother's style in some of the passages.

with the two caveats in mind, i would still recommend reid's book without reservation. it is a necessary addition to the library of any serious fan of the buckleys. one last thought, i also enjoyed how reid would occasional share the pages with observations written by his siblings on other occasions, but appropriate to expand on the topic then under discussion. at those points the book almost seemed like a family scrapbook.

1 comment:

carla said...

Your blog popped up when I did a search for An American Family+Reid Buckley. I bought my copy used and it came without the dust jacket, so I didn't have the touch football photo. One thing I missed in the book were group photos of all the children both as youngster and adults.

I enjoyed the book, although it was not what I was expecting - like you, I expected more about the children than the parents. But as I reflect on it, I appreciate what he told us about his parents and the creed they lived by.

Yesterday I finished it, and this morning I began reading "God and Man at Yale". It's amazing what he wrote almost 60 years ago and how current it still is; or perhaps now we see the result of what he described.