Tag Archives: Christopher Buckley

‘Thank You For Smoking,’ by Christopher Buckley

Thank You For Smoking

Continuing my course of reading Christopher Buckley novels, I decided to try Thank You For Smoking, the novel that made him a star.

Compared with the two previous novels I read, written more recently, Thank You For Smoking is strong stuff. All his novels (at least the ones I’ve read) have concerned a man with some residual decency, doing a job he knows to be wrong. They’re novels of equivocation. TYFS is in the same line, but the basic decency of the hero, Nick Naylor, spokesman for the tobacco lobby, is more submerged than in the other books. Nick feels some guilt, but he genuinely enjoys the challenge of twisting facts to confound anti-smoking activists, who don’t look much better than he does in this story. They are portrayed as humorless neo-Puritans. Nick gets a kick out of tweaking their noses.

When the novel starts, Nick’s hold on his well-paying job is getting shaky. A new boss has taken over, and he’s keen to kick Nick out so he can replace him with his sexy blonde assistant. But then Nick appears on Oprah. It’s an ambush interview, and he finds himself face to face with a bald kid with cancer. But Nick has great instincts, and he manages to turn the tables, making himself – and the tobacco industry – look persecuted and heroic. That earns Nick the support of “The Colonel,” the venerable head of the firm. Nick’s future will involve being kidnapped, spending time in the hospital, having an affair with the aforementioned sexy blonde, and going to jail. It’s quite a ride, but a kind of moral closure is achieved in the end.

Thank You For Smoking is a bravura comic novel. There are few actual, quotable gags, but absurd juxtapositions and situations provide frequent laughs. I was troubled by a plot element that seemed to equate guns and alcohol with cigarettes, though I think that wasn’t the purpose of the exercise.

But I found it all kind of rich for my blood. I’m going to take a break from Buckley for a while. Nevertheless I recommend Thank You For Smoking, with cautions for language, adult situations, and tasteless moments.

‘No Way to Treat a First Lady,’ by Christopher Buckley

No Way to Treat a First Lady

Judge Dutch creaked forward in his chair. This is the source of the aura of judges: they have bigger chairs than anyone else. That and the fact that they can sentence people to sit in electrified ones. It’s all about the chairs.

Since I enjoyed The Relic Master so much (see my review a few inches down), I figured I’d give Christopher Buckley another go. This time I tried No Way to Treat a First Lady, a satirical novel about presidential assassination, always comedy gold.

President Ken MacMann (think John F. Kennedy, but updated to the 1990s or so), after a grueling session of intimate relations with a movie star in the Lincoln Bedroom, retires to his own bedroom, where he wakes his wife, Beth (popularly known as “Lady Bethmac”). She lobs an antique Paul Revere spittoon at his head and goes back to sleep. The following morning, the maid finds the president dead.

Beth is immediately arrested for murder and assassination. In her time of need, she turns to Boyce “Shameless” Baylor, America’s most famous defense attorney. He also happens to be the guy Beth was engaged to years ago, in law school, before she met Ken MacMann. Boyce takes the case eagerly, and contemplates the possibility of botching the defense, just to get his own back.

That is the premise of a story that, for all its lampooning of American institutions and hypocrisies, is surprisingly sentimental at its heart. I laughed often while reading No Way to Treat a First Lady, and I made a guess as to how the story would come out. I was wrong. I like being wrong when it comes to predicting story endings.

Full points for entertainment value and social commentary here. Cautions for adult language and (sometimes kinky) situations. Otherwise, recommended. (Oh yes, there’s a born-again Christian character who, though not generally sympathetic, does the right thing when it comes down to cases.)

‘The Relic Master,’ by Christopher Buckley

The Relic Master

Did the relic emit fragrance? Had there been verification by ordeal? Had it caused a miraculous healing? Finally, had the saint permitted it to be stolen from its shrine? The correct term was “translation.” There was a logic to it: Saints were living beings, even dead. No saint, or member of the Holy Family, would permit his or her relic to be translated from one owner to another unless they favored relocation.

Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, has made a career of writing satirical novels about the modern world. Now (perhaps because modern life has begun to outstrip the most outrageous satire) he has turned his eyes to the 16th Century in his marvelous – and surprisingly sweet and inspirational – novel, The Relic Master. It’s still satire, but it’s also an insightful, exciting, funny, and informational book.

Dismas is a Swiss, a former soldier and a widower. He lives in Germany and makes his living as a relic master, procuring relics for two different, and competing, clients. His favorite is his uncle, Elector Frederick III, a man of piety and good taste. The other is Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, a greedy and corrupt man.

Dismas is an ethical relic master. He never buys anything he knows to be fraudulent – which sometimes displeases Albrecht. Continue reading ‘The Relic Master,’ by Christopher Buckley