The Magazine

A Laugh Supreme

What would happen if Judge Judy became Justice Judy?

Sep 22, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 02 • By BARTON SWAIM
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Christopher Buckley has a talent for inventing stories that seem almost to write themselves. How could a novel about a president appointing a TV judge to serve on the Supreme Court not be funny? It brings to mind Dr. Johnson's remark about Gulliver's Travels: "When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest." That wasn't true in the case of Gulliver, and Supreme Courtship could easily have been a mediocre book. It isn't.

There are, of course, the hilarious explanatory paragraphs Buckley's fans relish--"Ishiguro 'Mike' Haro was the first Japanese-American Supreme Court justice. .  .  . He was not popular with the law clerks--even his own--who made puns on his surname's similarity to the Asian mispronunciation of 'hello'"--but Buckley also deserves credit for creating a well wrought urn. Supreme Courtship's plot is sophisticated, its style crisp and distinctive, and Buckley has mastered the difficult art of rendering conversations among six, seven, or eight people in a way that's easy to follow--and funny. The Senate confirmation and Court hearing scenes are the best.

One criticism, though. Buckley's portrayal of his Texan heroine approaches Hollywood predictability. Whether this will make a difference to those readers who aren't from the South, I don't know. But I can assure non-southern readers--and I say this as one of Lindsey Graham's constituents--that a sizable majority of southerners do not use nonsensical expressions like "pecking at each other like a couple of snake-bit hens." Many of them are not, and do not know, any TV evangelists, nor are most of them given to chewing tobacco and spitting, audibly, while on the telephone. And most educated southerners understand that there are certain social circumstances in which one should avoid the use of words like "cattywompus"--which, by the way, is an adjective, not a noun, as Buckley thinks.

Granted, this is a satirical novel, and existing social practices must be exaggerated for the purpose. But this is pretty well-worn territory, isn't it? Still, Supreme Courtship is a delight to read for many reasons, among them its splendid send-up of the senior senator from Delaware. Buy it while it's hot.

Barton Swaim is the author of a forthcoming book on 19th-century Scottish literary critics.