Buckley's 'Wry Martinis': underlying creativity


"Wry Martinis," by Christopher Buckley. Random House. 291 pages. $22.

As Christopher Buckley acknowledges up front, this is mostly a collection of his magazine pieces, many of them for the New Yorker, where he is a frequent (and frequently hilarious) contributor to the "Shouts and Murmurs" column.

Traditionally, publishers feel that emblazoning the word "collection" on a humor book's dust jacket is tantamount to announcing: "This product was made from the skin of baby seals." But if any potential buyers are put off by the dreaded C-word, it would be a pity, since this is an enormously funny and entertaining compilation.

A veritable Murderer's Row of literary sluggers - Joseph Heller, John Updike and Tom Wolfe among them - was trotted out to provide blurbs for this book. All are effusive in their "advance praise." But, curiously, none remarks on Buckley's creativity, which to my way of thinking is what puts his humor in a class by itself and makes it so damn, well, funny.

One must be touched in some wonderful way to imagine Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise engrossed in one of their most delicate and complicated missions: trying to program their VCR.

("Kirk: 'Try this. With the Rec-On day flashing, press the 5 key.'"

("Chekov: 'I did already, Keptin. Still negative function.'")

Or to envision a debate between presidential candidates Bill Clinton and George Bush in which martinis are being consumed and trains of thought increasingly derailed.

("Clinton: 'The Germans are way ahead of us on walls. For failed Quayle four years of ... I don't know who's driving home, but it better not be me. That's why I'm proud to have Al Gore for my designated driver.'"

("Bush: 'Gotta say, Hillary - a fox. Hair band, love it. Tipper - more of a badger, maybe, but still, good woman.'"

Or to take an actual news story about O.J. Simpson considering a move to New York and imagine Johnnie Cochran, A.C. Cowlings and Alan Dershowitz writing letters of recommendation a condo tenant's association on behalf of the apartment-hunting pariah.

All three of those columns were written for the New Yorker. But Buckley, the editor for Forbes FYI magazine and most recently the author of "Thank You For Smoking," a rollicking satirical novel about the tobacco lobby, has also written for other magazines, and many of those pieces are also included here.

My favorite is a piece he wrote for Forbes FYI about a trip to Belize and 10 hellish days spent tramping around Mayan ruins with a tour group that includes a woman given to recounting, in excruciating detail, her husband's trouble with his lower colon.

Buckley fans familiar with his long-running feud with best-selling novelist Tom Clancy will also be interested in the article that started it all, Buckley's withering review of Clancy's book "Debt of Honor," which appeared in the New York Times in 1984.

The salvo of blistering faxes Clancy sent to Buckley in the wake of the review are also re-printed here, offering a fascinating glimpse of a mega-selling author in full Chernobyl melt-down.

Kevin Cowherd is a humor columnist and feature writer for The Sun. He is the author of two collections of humor: "Last Call at the 7-Eleven" and "When I Was Your Age, We Didn't Even Have Church."

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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