Christopher Buckley is not so much a novelist as a free-ranging satirist looking for targets. In Thank You for Smoking
it was big tobacco and earnest reformers; in God Is My Broker
it was business and religion; and in No Way to Treat a First Lady
, it's the entire legal profession, not to mention the Washington establishment. The novel opens with the President of the United States returning to the conjugal bed after an illicit Lincoln Bedroom romp with the Streisandesque Babette Van Anka. His wife, the long-suffering Beth McMann, promptly clocks him with a Paul Revere spittoon. Several hours later he dies. "Lady Bethmac," as the First Lady is immediately dubbed by the media, is put on trial, and the resulting media circus gives Buckley lots of opportunity for nicely observed skewerings of legal culture. "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 chairs." He gets in some neat neologisms--a lawyer performs a "credibilobotomy" on a witness--and sends up the pretensions of law TV: at a roundtable discussion, the guest from Harvard Law is invited "to provide gravitas and to shift uneasily in his seat when the other guests said something provocative." Buckley's Trial of the Millennium is so far-fetched that it seems entirely possible. --Claire Dederer
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From Publishers Weekly
The lurid sexual excesses that dominated presidential politics in the late '90s provide plenty of comic fodder for Buckley's latest satire, which doubles as a legal thriller that begins when President Ken MacMann is found dead in bed next to his wife after a vigorous night in a White House guest room with his latest mistress, film star Babette Van Anka. First lady Elizabeth MacMann whose tabloid nickname is Lady Bethmac is first on the suspect list, largely because she bopped Ken with an antique spittoon after his latest infidelity, leaving a bruise that spelled out Paul Revere's name on the late presidential forehead. Beth quickly hires an expensive, successful legal gun named Boyce "Shameless" Baylor, who also happens to be an old flame, and Baylor wades into the sordid mess, using the well-established tactics of tabloid trials to steer his client toward reasonable doubt. But Beth gets cocky after his initial success and insists on taking the stand to clear her reputation, a tactic that backfires so badly that Baylor is forced to resort to jury tampering to try to force a mistrial. Buckley has to use some obvious narrative cliches to get Baylor and MacMann out of the mess after they rekindle their romance, but the good news is that this book is more plot driven than Buckley's earlier satires, making it more coherent and effective over the long haul. The political humor is first-rate as usual, as Buckley has plenty of fun with the slimy, silly mess that is Beltway politics. This is one of his better efforts, which should keep Buckley on the "A" list of American satirists.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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