When I tell you that this little delight is a book of memoirs, I don’t want to be misunderstood. A sister of William F. Buckley, Jr., Miss Buckley, who was managing editor of National Review for 37 years (and who passed away recently at the age of 90), does not make “creative nonfiction” out of the quotidian, pretend to be contributing an invaluable perspective on her “times,” or labor under the delusion that she is making capital-L literature out of her life.
No. She is telling stories, practicing the art of the raconteur—moreover, to mixed company, which is altogether fitting for her subjects. Those are her sporting exploits, chiefly on the golf course and in armed pursuit of various game, as the book’s title suggests, but also in the saddle. She proves so good at regaling us with her adventures that even this reviewer, who has never shouldered a gun, straddled a quadruped, or wielded a golf club, has been enthralled by her yarning.
The essential charm of the personal sporting tale lies in the teller’s talent for establishing and maintaining her essential command of the sport in question before proceeding to the grand moment of humiliation that is invariably the yarn’s payoff. Miss Buckley performs this feat with admirable dispatch, opening the very first chapter at the Women’s Amateur Golf Championship tournament. Now, she does introduce herself with humble comedy as one of “three bewildered young women” whose first-match victory would be an “UPSET,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. But she’s at the biggest-deal event for lady golfers at the time, and it’s being televised—in 1949! The lady’s good. And her mighty first swing sends the ball “ever so slowly over the front edge of the tee[,] coming to rest on the tee’s downward slope still within easy range of the cameras.” The next to tee off “slams her ball 250 yards right down the middle” and goes on to win match and finish as the tournament’s runner-up. “By the way,” Miss Buckley tacks on, two lines’ space below chapter’s end, “Dot Kielty beat me, but not until the 17th hole.” The lady’s good.
She cites her hunting prowess even more offhandedly in the first of the collection’s nine tales of the gun (as opposed to a mere four of the club and two of the bridle). “I had often talked of going on safari” is the first clause of the first of the hunting stories. To which the reader can’t help replying, “Doesn’t everyone?” While this recounting inevitably entails another humiliation, it quickly steps a day beyond it to a triumph so resounding that “the gentleman trackers . . . pound me on the back,” the driver shakes her hand, and her and brother John’s white hunter major-domo hugs her and insists on many photographs. This is all just in case anyone isn’t completely assured that, though she’s mostly disarmingly jovial about it, the lady can shoot. Which, in the other eight hunting stories, she does at quail, grouse, ducks, doves, wild turkeys, and other flying targets. Every bit as successfully, too, despite all the mud-wallowing, swamp-foundering, marsh-dunking, other kinds of soaking, and shivering—always shivering—that make for good if, for the likes of this reviewer, imperatively cautionary post-hunt clubhouse raillery.
Although this basically self-published volume betrays insufficient editorial oversight—besides misspellings, indentation for paragraphs sometimes breaks down, and full justification disappears a couple of times, so that the right margin goes raggedy—it affords such convivial pleasure that those are easily forgiven. Besides, isn’t the picture of Bill Buckley sitting on a fence for the last time ever enticement enough to pick up this book?
[Putt Putt Bang Bang and Other Mishaps in the Pursuit of Sports, by Priscilla L. Buckley (P.E.N. Press) 87 pp., $20.00]