Not every book you read can be Dostoevsky or Eric Voeglin. Sometimes you just need a light hearted but entertaining book to pass the time and relax. A while back I was in need of just such a book. I decided on No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley. I enjoy the younger Buckley’s satirical humor and the topic – presidential shenanigans and the resulting media reaction – seemed likely to produce a laugh. So with the ever dangerous Amazon One Click the book was speeding its way to me. I recently finished the book and thought I would share my thoughts with you.
First off, the book is a rather obvious satire of the Clinton years. It centers around an unfaithful President married to an ambitious but loyal wife. The President is frequently visited by an actress/singer named Babbette who, when she isn’t “advising” the President, likes to believe she is working for peace in the Middle East. When it appears that the First Lady has killed her husband the resulting “Trial of the Century” mocks the lawyers, media, and the public that creates and craves such a circus. Caricatures of Barbara Streisand, the OJ trial, and the nightly talk shows on CNN fill the book.
The book, however, is not just a big crack on William Jefferson Clinton and his friends. It is basically a satirical look at our media culture with a murder mystery intertwined. As Buckley uses lawyers, reporters, politicians, and Hollywood personalities as fodder for jokes and satire he keeps the plot moving with the technical details of both the trial and the underlying mystery: did the First Lady kill the President? I won’t spoil the ending for you but it is one last crack at the odd obsessions of our time.
So, you ask, was the book worth reading? As I stated at the start, this is not serious literature. But if you enjoy ribald and satirical commentary on popular culture, Buckley does it quite well. The most interesting part from my perspective was the constantly battle to keep the upper hand as the trial progressed. Trials are interesting because they involve human beings that are notoriously fickle and unpredictable. Lawyers must work very hard to insure that they get the information across they need to while at the same time suppressing information that might hurt their case. As the twist and turns of Buckley’s “Trial of the Century” unfolded he kept you wondering how all the strings were going to be tied up neatly by the end.
Overall, however, I must say that I was not particularly engrossed by the book. I chuckled quite often at the gibes and inside political jokes but it was not a book I was compelled to pick up when I got home. No Way To Treat A First Lady would make a good light reading book to take on vacation or to read on the bus on the way to work, etc. It will bring a smile to your face without requiring a great deal of concentration.