Racing Through Paradise Essay - Critical Essays

Racing Through Paradise

When William F. Buckley, Jr., sets out on the swirling waters for a sail across the Pacific, he takes along a WHO’S WHO of companions, thirty-two cases of wine, fifty cases of beer, games, Goo-Goo clusters, twenty-eight full-length films, and all the Baroque music he can carry. Buckley and his illustrious company sail from Honolulu and land a month later in New Guinea none the worse for the crossing.

The book’s exciting and humorous moments occur more in Buckley’s excerpts from his shipmates’ journals than in his own pompous and pedantic prose. Buckley never misses an opportunity to display the extent of his erudition, never says “stripteaser,” for example, when he can say “ecdysiast,” thereby showing simultaneously the range of his vocabulary and his knowledge of H.L. Mencken, who coined the term.

The first quarter of the book provides largely unnecessary, frequently tedious, and tendentious background material. Although the narrative accelerates after page 89, it wanders too often in an undisciplined way, meandering when it might be cruising under full sail.

RACING THROUGH PARADISE is profusely illustrated with photographs by Christopher Little, who, as the chief photographer on the voyage, did his job deftly and imaginatively. Indeed, the book’s illustrations give one a better sense of the journey than does Buckley’s writing. This third of Buckley’s travel books is not his best, although it has its moments of high interest and adventure. A less self-conscious style than Buckley’s seems appropriate to the natural subject matter with which the book deals.