Saturday, September 12, 1998
Weld's Book: Read It and Laugh - or Weep
By Barbara Anderson
I figured there had to be more
to Bill Weld's book than, literally, met the eye of the professional critic. So as soon as
I faced the fact that I was not going to get a free autographed copy in the mail, I
dropped by a local bookstore to purchase Mackerel By Moonlight from the 15%
I renewed my preferred reader card, got a
extra discount for renewal and another because I'm a preferred reader, and earned several
bonus points; in the end I think they paid me to buy the book.
The young clerk was curious about my choice; she said
that she and others were turned off by the jacket photo of Weld in his hunting garb,
wearing a knife and carrying a rifle. "I'm a vegetarian," she proudly explained.
I told her I didn't think he actually ate what he
killed, that he probably does it just for sport. Judging from her response, this was about
as helpful as the attempts I made to defend the man when he was governor. Just kidding,
miss (see "pigeon and rabbit cassoulet" on page 133)!
Anyhow, I was eager to start reading a novel compared
on the jacket text with two of my favorite funnybooks, Chris Buckley's "Thank you
for Smoking" and Joe Klein's "Primary Colors." I figured that
I could find the hidden genius behind what some had called a weak plot just by reading it
on two levels, as one does Weld's beloved Nabokov (read "Pale Fire").
I'd like to say I couldn't put it down, and I
actually didn't have to: the book is only 232 pages, and the print is writ large, so the
whole project took just a few hours. But I did take a break in the middle to drive
downtown for a snack.
I knew what this meant: it meant I was starting to
get uncomfortable about something I didn't want to face, so naturally it was time to
distract myself with food.
Several ice cream sandwiches worked well enough to
get me to the end and I recommend you try it yourself. In the process, you'll discover
things you may not have known about the man who was your governor for seven years.
Even a master disseminator like Bill Weld can't write
a book without putting himself into it somewhere. Despite the clever convolution of being
an Irish Catholic Democrat instead of a Yankee Republican, running for District Attorney
instead of Governor, and the distraction of placing his real self in a minor role as the
book's Yankee governor, there is little doubt that the narrator is thinking the author's
own thoughts about a lot of things.
Want to know why Governor Weld went out of his way to
support gay rights? Read page 34. Never mind that, unlike the book's main character, the
author wasn't an orphan; childhood loneliness can also be felt by poor little rich boys,
leading to empathy for the unaccepted. The sentence "I can't tell you how that
enraged me" jumps off the page as an entirely real statement from someone who wasn't
known for public rage.
If you ever met the guy and in a moment of pathetic
cluelessness, tried to have a peer-like conversation with him, you will recognize his
social theory expressed on page 103 ("never say hello, goodbye..."). If you
wondered how the governor could seem so naive at times, considering his experience as a
crime prosecutor, read the chapter titled "It All Started with a Sandwich" and
suspect that you were the one who was naive.
Were you curious about the Governor's morning staff
meetings? Read Mullally's "First Law of Management" on page 182. Did it annoy
you when he seemed to be too cozy with the Democrats on Beacon Hill? The reason is on the
same page: imagine that the characters are talking not about the book's attorney general
but Senate President Bill Bulger.
Now, it's entirely possible that the writer who cites
the English maxim "never complain, never explain" (page 103) is using this book
because he has a need to explain himself as well as show off some of his mental and verbal
gymnastic skills, which would make Bill Weld like the rest of us, in a way.
But it's equally possible that he is just having a
pale fire funfest with his readers and ex-constituents and if that's the case, it's not
for the first time. Read this book and laugh; read it and weep.
Barbara Anderson is co-director of
Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government. Her bi-weekly column is syndicated and
appears in the (Quincy) Patriot Ledger, (Salem) Evening News, (Attleboro) Sun-Chronicle,
(Worcester) Telegram-Gazette and others.