Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

William F. Buckley, Jr., paused to examine his life at a peak moment, choosing a single week in the late autumn of 1981. It was a week not dominated by major world events, so that the everyday life of this politically conscious figure, and his more purely human consciousness, comes to the fore. The form of a seven-day slice of life is more novelistic than memoiristic; the refusal to rearrange life dramatically, instead cherishing its mundane texture and spontaneous moments of reflection, suggests the film documentary more than a novel—hence the subtitle. ( Earlier, Buckley employed the same form in Cruising Speed: A Documentary, 1971.) Like a documentary, Overdrive leaves in all Buckley’s weaknesses and warts. It becomes an apologia only when reviewing verbal duels that have vexed the author in the past and continue to haunt him; thus, he gives his side of the acrimonious disputes with Gore Vidal and Franklin Littell. Another important aspect of the memoir as document is the self-explanatory role of the many letters he incorporates verbatim.

Buckley freely admits that he eschews introspection and that his life could be called unexamined. He explains the “commotion” of his life (the experiences of just one week require him to draw vignettes of some two hundred people) as arising from a counterpoint between the search for intellectual virtue and the fear of boredom:The unexamined life may not be worth living, in which case I will concede that mine is not worth living. But excepting my own life, I do seek to examine, and certainly I dilate upon, public questions I deem insufficiently examined.

The narrator appears to be much...

(The entire section is 684 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Burner, David. Column Right, 1988.

Dunne, John Gregory. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” in The New York Review of Books. XXX (October 13, 1983), p. 20.

Ephron, Nora. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII (August 7, 1983), p. 7.

Judis, John B. William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, 1988.

Koenig, Rhoda. “Dictated but Not Read,” in Harper’s Magazine. CCLXVII (October, 1983), p. 72.

Podhoretz, Norman. Review in Commentary. LXXVI (November, 1983), p. 66.

Winchell, Mark Royden. William F. Buckley, Jr., 1984.