Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Review: Supreme Courtship

Humor is about the hardest thing to translate. You have to really understand a culture to crystallize the humor in it. Christopher Buckley, ultimate Washington insider,* really understands life “inside the beltway.”** Which is why he manages to make “nine old farts sending footnotes to each other” –a.k.a. the US Supreme Court – seem hilarious! Well, at least hilarious some of the time. And maybe that’s all you can expect from political satire.

The premise here is great. President Vanderkamp, a terribly earnest and therefore thoroughly disliked Ohioan, becomes miffed when two of the finest jurists of the age are turned down for a seat on the Supreme Court because Dexter Miller, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants the job himself. Throwing caution to the wind for once, he nominates TV judge Pepper Cartwright, a wisecracking, gun-toting, Prada-wearing Texas icon to the Court.*** Along with the arcane nature of Constitutional law, Buckley also expounds on reality TV, populism, and the nature of marriage. There’s something here for everyone, especially news junkies.

Part of the book works beautifully. There’s one exchange among justices made up almost entirely of Latin legalese that had me laughing out loud in the library. And Silvio Santamaria, clearly a send-up of the most despicable justice with whom I share an alma mater – Antonin Scalia – is a brilliant tribute to excess:

He was brilliant, with a wit as caustic as drain cleaner; good company if you were in his camp and look out if you weren’t. Silvio Santamaria didn’t take yes for an answer. He didn’t disagree—he violently opposed. Didn’t demur—he went for your throat. Didn’t nitpick—disemboweled you and flossed his teeth with your intestines. First-timers appearing before the Court for oral argument had been known to wet their pants and even faint under his withering questions and commentary (p. 71).

I actually hope Buckley gets back to Santamaria in another book – the character deserved more time!

Unfortunately, not all of the book hangs together that well. The romantic angle of the novel was weak – so weak it made me squirm a bit. And Latina bombshell Ramona Alvilar represented a very nasty and hackneyed stereotype. At times it seemed like a long time between laughs. But then, this is a novel about the Supreme Court, where things change at a glacial pace. Perhaps that’s what he was going for?

If you like Buckley’s other books, you definitely will not be disappointed with Supreme Courtship, as I wasn’t. It just wasn’t as sharp as Thank You for Smoking, or as gut-wrenchingly funny as Boomsday, but it does represent a broadening of social themes for Buckley, which I enjoyed. A solid 3 out of 5 stars – probably 4 if you’re the kind of person who actually enjoys watching 24-hour news channels when there’s no particular disaster to follow.

This counts for the Book Blogger Abroad 2011 Challenge, as it was recommended by yours truly! So thanks to Judith at leeswammes for hosting!

*Yes, Christopher Buckley’s work stands on its own, but it’s hard to separate his political sensibility from the fact that his father was William F. Buckley, Jr., which makes him a true American political scion. I probably wouldn’t agree with either man on anything, including day of the week, just on principle. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Buckley was raised on this stuff, and can be funny about it.

**That’s Washington, DC, for those of us outside the beltway. People in DC are so inside the beltway they don’t even realize that other cities HAVE beltways.

*** Think Sarah Palin on the Supreme Court and you have the idea, although Buckley actually finished the book before John McCain plucked the woman who could see Russia from her house out of Alaska and onto the national scene.


  1. So you read your own recommended book? That's a great way to start a challenge. I think this book wouldn't be for me, I'm not keen on books about politicians.

    Good luck with the next book in the challenge (I've still got to start - way behind!).

  2. I hadn't planned to, Judith, but the library got it in for me the same day I signed up for your challenge, so I figured I would go ahead and read it!


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col