These brief essays are built upon dialogue--Art Buchwald interviewing an imaginary informant or eavesdropping on a supposed conversation. In this manner, he treats subjects that have received attention in the news, such as the Democrats’ choice of a female vice presidential candidate in 1984, an Ann Landers survey showing what women really want, an American Express advertisement. While claiming to provide the true stories behind these events, Buchwald reveals the follies and absurdities of daily life.
Beneath the wit, these pieces sometimes offer serious suggestions. Instead of calling for a fifty-percent reduction in Soviet and American nuclear arsenals, Buchwald suggests that each country agree to kill the other’s citizens five times rather than ten. To describe the life of a woman in politics or business, he explores how her job affects her husband. He masks his insights into various Western economies by showing what happens to national leaders coming to Williamsburg, Virginia, for the 1984 economic summit. Always there is a wry angle, a peculiar twist.
Though these pieces are based on current events, the best of them convey universal truths. Usually they do not demand any background, for the conditions they describe are not limited to any day, year, or decade. Grown children return home to visit not the parents but the washer and dryer. Parents always seek out toys to make their children happy; men and women continue to mystify one another. The concerns may be less cosmic than disarmament and nuclear holocaust, yet their very domesticity frees the reader from underlying fears of vulnerability and annihilation raised by even the funniest treatment of vigilantes, summit conferences, and international conflict.
Written to deadlines and space restrictions, these essays do not always succeed in their effort to delight while instructing. Surprisingly often, though, they do. After twenty-five books, Buchwald is a master of the medium he has chosen. If folly can be laughed into extinction, this book should render it an endangered species.