Christopher Buckley is one of the five funniest living fiction writers, and if you want to laugh, especially if you find much of life and politics so absurd as to be hilarious, you need to read his books. The fact that Buckley is the son of conservative writer William Buckley — at least to me — makes his writing even more amusing. Like father, like son? Well, both Buckleys write for magazines. But I don’t think William Buckley would ever write books as madcap as these.
Christopher Buckley first gained mainstream attention, including my own, with his brilliantly witty Thank You for Smoking. The book reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Dr. Strangelove, in the way it demonstrates the humor in a subject — tobacco and its medical impacts — not usually seen as amusing. But that’s exactly why the book is so incredibly sharp.
Here, let’s try a test: Imagine the hardest public relations job in the world. When I think of this I came up with one idea, someone who would speak in favor of global warming, and I just wrote a semi-fictional pitch with that premise to Buckley for a future book. But even that idea is not as funny as the premise for Thank You for Smoking: Nick Naylor is in charge of marketing and public relations for the tobacco lobby.
He is the guy who appears on shows like Larry King Live knowing that when Larry throws him a softball question he can spin and lie and tell the world that tobacco’s health impacts have been vastly exaggerated. He does some of the best spinning imaginable, it’s just that his spinning defends products that kill.
The book has one of the best first lines I've read in years: "Nick Naylor had been called most things since becoming chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, but until now no one had actually compared him to Satan."
You know how some mystery writers, including Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block, create anti-heros for some of their books, often killers? Well, Buckley created the ultimate anti-hero, someone who does not kill directly but is more of an accessory to mass murder. But then, after a series of plot twists, the reader is put in the unusual position of feeling empathy, if not sympathy, for Naylor. He is kidnapped and his body is covered with tobacco patches. Suddenly he must deal with the real effects of his products. To say what happens after that is to reveal too much, so I won’t.