In a campaign season that’s become a theater of the absurd, how can a political parodist improve on the truth? That’s the predicament facing Christopher Buckley, who’s made much of his living in recent years writing satirical novels about the nation’s ruling class. In “Thank You For Smoking,” for example, Buckley wrote a pitch-perfect spoof of the lobbyists who pull the strings in Washington.
This year, though, has left Buckley nonplussed. A casino tycoon and reality TV star is leading the GOP field for president. A self-professed socialist is drawing big crowds as a contender for the Democratic nomination. How’s a comic writer going to make fiction better than that?
All we can say to Buckley is that we folks in Louisiana feel his pain. Our political truth here has always been stranger than fiction, as the recent gubernatorial race made abundantly clear.
Given our history in that regard, we can understand why poor Mr. Buckley is throwing up his hands. He’s deciding to stay away from ribbing the modern political establishment for a time, concluding, as he puts it, that during the 2016 election cycle, “American politics were sufficiently self-satirizing.” Instead, he’s turned his comic eye towards the Old World of antiquity, writing a tongue-in-cheek novel called “The Relic Hunter.” It is, in the words of his publisher, “a hilarious adventure featuring a 16th century relic hunter named Dismas and his best friend, Albrecht Durer, who conspire to forge the Shroud of Turin.”
It’s arrived in bookstores just in time for the holidays, and we suspect it will make its way to armchairs and bedsides of readers looking for something light and funny to warm their hands around during the coming winter cold. The world could sure use a few laughs right now. What we noticed first, cracking open a copy of “The Relic Hunter” and surveying the author photo, was how much Buckley has come to resemble his late dad as he ages. Buckley’s father, William F. Buckley, was a reader favorite when his syndicated column appeared in The Advocate for many years. The elder Buckley, who died in 2008, was, as those of a certain age can remember, the patrician patriarch of the modern conservative movement. We can only imagine what Bill would think of his beloved GOP embracing Donald Trump.
But the times change, and we change, too, as Christopher Buckley once noted in a lovely essay, “Autumn Intimations,” that we’ve been thinking about this Thanksgiving weekend. It’s about the Thanksgiving gatherings of his youth — how great they were, and what they taught him about the fleetingness of things.
“Of those Thanksgiving meals,” he writes, “I remember the pearled onions in cream, mince pies, and bottles from my grandfather’s celebrated wine cellar being brought up and decanted. Some of these had been maturing since the First World War.”
It was a grand feast, but there would inevitably, come a time to bid good-bye to all the cousins. “The good-byes in the crepuscular gloom of late November afternoons were, I now understand, rehearsals for later, more final partings.”
That is what makes Thanksgiving so special, we suppose. It alerts us to the truth that all blessings are fragile, which is why they should be held close and treasured.