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Memories of the Ford Administration Paperback – 31 Mar 1994
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Still, Updike's middling efforts on a book like this is worth the time to sink in the classic prose and realize that this world is fallen and passing away.
Like FDR later making difficult decisions on interment of Japanese Americans, nothing Buchanan could do would be widely praised. In fact he really became President because he did not plan to do anything. His main qualification was that he had been an ambasssador in Europe during all the difficult votes and he had no history to hide. Hopefully we won't see another Philadelphia lawyer in a powerful position.
What Updike has done is tell the story of a college professor, dealing with aging, infidelity, separation, politics, drugs, and the power of young women to seduce, while trying to pull together his scholarly work on a subject no one cares about anymore, the life of Buchanan. Note the autobiographical context as well, as Updike was a long time professor who was dealing with divorce in the Ford era. The unique aspect to this novel is the use of an academic paper as the context. Our protaganist is writing an extended article to the NEAAH's quarterly journal. He mentions at times that they may want to edit out his opinions on sexual matters. Fortunately he is writing this more than a decade after the fact so his wife does not find out about his indiscretions by reading the historical journal as might occur in a Mel Brooks' film.
Updike was a great writer and story teller. Here he dove in a bit too deep into the Buchanan story, even for a local boy like me. I will give Updike a lot of credit for his Buchanan research and his creative thinking on how conversations with Buchanan's fiancee and colleagues may have proceeded. There are only so many Updike books and unfortunately he has gone to collect his just rewards, so I recommend to read them all. I like Alfred Clayton, named for Alf Landon, more than Rabbit, with all his escapist tendencies, by a considerable margin.