At the end of his memoir about the deaths of his parents, Losing Mum and Pup, Christopher Buckley writes a "postlude" in which he says that he suspects he began writing the book "to enable catharsis," but having finished, he now feels it was more "out of a basic need," a need to keep the loved ones with him for just a little while longer. Buckley, as he says at the beginning, is a writer. It would be a pity, he continues, to waste such good material. But we know he doesn't mean it. We understand he is burying his distress in irony. He is a writer and writers deal with the days of their lives, their joys, and their sorrows by writing.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, for example, in an attempt to deal with his grief over the early death of his friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, turned to what he knew best. He wrote a poem, an elegy on the death of his friend, In Memoriam. Like Buckley, he gave some thought to the question of why he was writing. He was well aware that elegists in the past had been criticized for parading their sorrows in public. Someone who was truly distraught did not indulge in poetry, they were told. But Tennyson had an answer for that: "I do but sing because I must,/And pipe but as the linnets sing." Writing is what writers do.
Losing Mum and Pup is no sentimental tear jerker. There may be a lump or two for the throat, but for every tear there are chuckles and snickers aplenty. Could one expect less from the author of Thank You for Smoking and Boomsday ? A satirist smirks because he must, but Buckley smirks as only one who feels deeply can smirk, indeed as only a Buckley can smirk. He laughs through tears and with love.
He never sugar coats. He recognizes his parents were human. They had the flaws common to us all. Patricia Buckley and William Buckley were not saints. To many they may have appeared larger than life: friends and companions of the rich and powerful, a socially and politically prominent power couple. But this would be only to outsiders, to the son who loved them, they would simply be Mum and Pup: Mum who might well tell a variety of different stories, none of them true, about why she left Vasser without finishing; Pup who would insist on sailing out into the middle of hurricane force storm because they had made plans to do so. His mother, he tells us, once claimed that the king and queen of England always stayed with her family at their home in Vancouver. His father impatiently walks off with the family in the middle of Christopher's graduation ceremony and leaves him to have lunch by himself.