collapsing marriage and bed-hoppingrnduring the years 1974 to 1977,rnYou’ve read all this before: bored facultyrnwics awash in gin, pert coeds, availablernmenopause babes, etc. It is the exiguousrngrist of campus Creative WriterrnMills, impossible to read but not, alas, tornwrite. Talk about chewing more thanrnyou’ve bitten off; if any American thirstsrnfor one more peek at the couplings ofrnunattractive campus un-deads in theirrngraves of academe, come and get it. Butrnthere is more. Side by side with Alf’srnboring lecheries are fragments of hisrn”historical/psychological, lyrical/clegiacal,”rnas well as highly speculative, biographyrnof his magnificent obsession. PresidentrnJames Buchanan.rnBuchanan is the most unlovablerndoughface. Douglas at least had Lincoln,rnand Pierce his dead son and hisrndrinking problem, but poor Old Buckrnseldom gets credit for anything morernthan “shrewd inertia.” To Alf, however,rn”he projected a certain vaporous largeness,rnthe largeness of ambivalence. . . .rn[Regarding] Buchanan’s mind, peoplerncomplamed he couldn’t make it up, andrnI liked that.”rnThe key to Alf’s Buchanan lies in hisrncourtship of Anne Coleman, the ficklerndaughter of a Lancaster iron magnate.rnJimmy Buchanan is a young lawyer, arnFederalist, and somewhat of an arriviste,rnand like so many of our eminent forefathersrnhe wants to marry well. Anne,rnhis betrothed, is a volatile pettishrnprincess; she calls off the engagementrnafter a silly misunderstanding fueled by arnlocal doxy. Or so goes the story Alf concoctsrnfrom the scraps and gobbets ofrngossip that survive over the years. Sentrnto Philadelphia for some R&R, the distraughtrnAnne dies—a suicidal overdosernof laudanum, goes the whispering—andrnBuchanan is cursed ever after. “He wasrnscared of the world, Buchanan was. Hernthought it was out to get him, and itrnwas.”rnThe interdeterminacv of history bedevilsrnAlf. Did Anne really dismiss Jimmyrnbecause of an unstable tart’s loosernlips? Did Anne take her own life? Howrncan we possibly know the welter of secretrnmotivations and hidden jealousiesrnthat animate the wooden stiffs in thernhistory books? And it’s all so random.rnIn one of the novel’s many delightfulrnpassages, Alf imagines swain Jimmy pursuingrnAnne to Philadelphia, winning herrnback, and settling into the blissful domesticityrnof Lancaster, while PresidentrnStephen Douglas craftily and bloodlesslyrnreconciles North and South.rnYoung Buchanan, more than OldrnBuck the President, is Alf’s quarry. Hernbroods upon “the curious long wrestlernbetween God and Buchanan, who,rnburned eariy in life by a flare of violence,rndevoted his whole cunning and assiduousrncareer thereafter to avoiding furtherrnheat, and yet was burned at the end,rnas the Union exploded under him.rnThe gods are bigger than we are, was tornbe the moral. They kill us for theirrnsport.”rnScattered throughout the novel arernrefreshing revisions that give thernBuchanan material the character of anrnamiable, digressive, iconoclastic essay:rn”He tried to keep peace. That wholerndecade of Presidents did, Fillmore andrnPierce and Buchanan—try, I mean—rnand they succeeded, they did keep thernSouth placated, and in the Union, whichrnwas important, since if war had come inrn1850 instead of 1860, the outcomernmight have been very different; thernSouth had all its assets in place—rnthe military tradition, the great officers,rnthe down-home patriotism. King Cottonrn—and the North still needed torngrow. And precious little thanksrnthey’ve got from history for it—therndoughface Presidents. History lovesrnblood. It loves the great blood-spillers.rnPoor Buchanan was ahead of his time,rntrying to bring mankind up a notch, outrnof the blood.”rnMuch of Alf’s biography of Buchananrnaffects the euphuistic language of thernperiod’s popular prose; there are nornleaves in the Lancaster fall, but there isrnplenty of “arborial foliage.” And if it’srnUpdike, there must be sex, although thernfornication scenes are detumescent asrnever—”as tiresome as an old mortgage,”rnas the novelist Henry W. Clune complains.rnDespite the parallels in the lives ofrnAlf Clayton and James Buchanan, therndual narratives are neatly divided. Thernreader who can overcome his compunctiousrnreluctance to skip pages—dozensrnof them—will be rewarded with arncharming and playful novelette aboutrna little-known President who, for allrnhis difficult dithermg, killed 600,000rnfewer Americans than did his successor.rnBill Kauffman of Genesee County,rnNew York, is author of the novelrnEvery Man A Kingrn(Soho Press).rnTruth inrnSelf-Advertisementrnby Gregory McNameernFear and Loathing: The Strange andrnTerrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompsonrnby Paul PerryrnNew York: ‘Thunder’s Mouth Press;rn288 pp., $22.95rnHunter S. Thompson does not sufferrnfools gladly. For that matter,rnhe seems to suffer no one at all, gladly orrnnot. A survivor of the 1960’s, he hasrndeemed his contemporaries “a wholernsubculture of frightened illiterates” andrnthose younger than they “a generationrnof swine.” (And these are the peoplernhe professes to like; never mind thosernhe despises, such as Ceorge Bush andrnCharles Keating.) Still, he has carvedrnout a niche for himself as the most beatificallyrnfoolish journalist working inrnAmerica today, a practitioner of inspiredrnlunacy in the name of truth-seeking inquiry.rnNo believer in so-called reportorialrnobjectivity, he has become far betterrnknown than most of his subjects. Howrnmany people remember Thomas Eagletonrn(a sideshow character in Thompson’srnsavage book of 1972, Fear andrnLoathing on the Campaign Trail) theserndays?rnThe Acid Era has left its scars on thernman. For one thing, he is now incapablernof speaking a coherent, un-whiskeyslurredrnsentence, an odd condition forrna man who makes much of his living onrnthe college lecture circuit. (The kiddiesrnwant only to see this legendary man, wernmust suppose, not to hear what he hasrnto say.) For another, he has never recoveredrnfrom the paranoia of the Nixonrnyears, and his reclusiveness is legendary.rnFor that reason, Paul Perry warns us earlyrnon, his life of Thompson “is a violentlyrnunauthorized biography.”rnPerry himself is no detached observer.rnAs editor of Running magazine in thernearly 1980’s, he commissioned Thompsonrnto attend an Ironman Competitionrn(a grueling athletic contest comprisedrnof swimming, bicycling, and running)rnin Hawaii. Thompson, fueled by all sortsrnof chemical compounds and incentivereducingrnbeverages, never delivered thernmanuscript Perry expected, but the all-rn36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn