Christopher Buckley's "The White House Mess," which Knopf is bringing out in March, so intrigued Nancy Reagan that she asked for galley proofs to take with her for something to read in Geneva last month.
But at last week's banquet to celebrate the 30th anniversary of National Review (dad William F. Buckley's magazine), she "confessed" to another guest that she hadn't read her advance copy after all. Which was probably just as well.
Young Buckley, who worked for Vice President George Bush for a year and a half, hasn't written a novel about the inner workings of the White House restaurant -- or mess -- but rather a parody of a White House memoir. It's told by a Mike Deaver-type presidential aide named Herbert Wadlough about a Gary Hart-type president named Thomas Nelson Tucker (TNT for short) and his administration.
The story begins on Inauguration Day 1989 as the official motorcade arrives at the White House to take Ronald Reagan to the Capitol for the swearing-in of his successor. So far, so good.
Where the White House "mess" starts taking shape -- and what Nancy Reagan might not have thought so funny -- is in Buckley's portrayal of Ronald Reagan. In that opening scene, Reagan has gone, well, a little dotty. He's still wearing his pajamas when the delegation arrives and is not at all ready to leave for the Capitol (he has even ordered lunch), much less leave for good.
From then on everything goes completely haywire. Within three months, the ever-loyal baggage handler/food taster/baby sitter Wadlough loses access to TNT because of the machinations of an Ivy League-type chief of staff. Way over his head and much farther east than he's ever been in his life, Wadlough is shunted into the East Wing as Mrs. TNT's chief of staff, where he tries to collect the tattered shreds of his life. And so it goes.
Of Mrs. Reagan's part in the book, Buckley says, "I've portrayed her in a completely supportive role."
"It's a very affectionate setup, not malicious at all," Buckley says. "I hope she sees it that way."
If there is a serious point to his book, Buckley says it's to "yank the chain" of everybody who writes White House memoirs with a variation of the theme: It wasn't my fault. I wasn't there.
"I don't think these kiss-and-tell books are very dignified, but at the end of the year and a half with Bush , I left wanting to write something yet not violate my oath that I wouldn't write about it," says Buckley.
It wasn't hard to keep his promise. He had lots of other people's memoirs to read instead.
It wasn't just joy to the world, but also joy to sex that no one less than Santa Claus was promoting the other night at the annual Christmas party given by political consultant and man of the cloth Roy Pfautch at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.
When Sen. Robert (Little Bobby) Kasten's turn came to sit on Santa's knee, he found that the jolly old elf's bag of toys included four books with his name on them: "Sexual Politics" by Kate Millett; "Human Sexual Inadequacy" by William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson; "C Zone: Peak Performance Under Pressure" by Robert Kriegel and Marilyn H. Kriegel; and "Dr. Ruth's Guide to Good Sex" by Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
"That was on my list," noted bachelor Kasten, a Wisconsin Republican, of the Westheimer book.
But Santa didn't stop there. "In case all else fails, here's a tape of Julio Iglesias. The first song is 'All of You,' " chuckled Santa, also known in energy circles as Secretary John S. Herrington.
Kasten will marry advertising executive Eva Jean Nimmons Jan. 4 at Fort Washington Collegiate Church in New York City in ceremonies conducted by the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale.
Nimmons was not among the 400 high-ranking administration and Capitol Hill guests.
Others at the Pfautch party were three White House aides of chief of staff Donald Regan: David Chew, Tom Dawson and Chris Hicks. "Regan technocrats serving the country," was the way one introduced his group to Santa. Clarified another: "We have no known views of our own."
Ready or not, he's coming back. And maybe sooner than you think. For those who missed Britain's Prince Charles here last month and can't wait until he visits Harvard next September, he's coming back in February. This time he'll be in Texas to help celebrate the state's 150th anniversary. While there, he'll bestow upon electronics magnate H. Ross Perot the Winston Churchill Award.