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High Jinx by William F. Buckley Jr. (Doubleday: $16.95; 261 pp.)

March 23, 1986|Nick B. Williams Sr. | Williams is a former editor of The Times. and

On these dull foggy days of spring, when I feel boredom pressing down on me, I grab the latest William Buckley novel as an antidote. He makes me sneer, or snicker, or sometimes choke with rage, but never never leaves me quite as placid as I was.

I would not say this to his face--the man's too much a master of the verbal counterpunch--but nonetheless, his latest thriller-cum-satire--"High Jinx"--left me more in his debt than I prefer to be.

If Cold War history is not as he portrays it here, dammit, it should have been, if only to add mordant nastiness to it. Oh, yes, a touch of charm, and certainly malicious wit, but both no more--nor less!--than sugar coating for a rather horrid pill.

This time around there's also sex in this, not the exotica of giggle, grunt and groan, but nonetheless--shall I say this?--the basic raw details that make of it a sort of manic rite of spring.

There's also tragedy, treated not comically, of course, but with more than a touch of the icy cynicism of history. Who weeps, these days, for all those slaughtered at Thermopylae, defending ancient Greece--and all the fledgling nations of the West--against the barbarism of the invading Persian horde? Who weeps, indeed, for all the dead in all our wars, unless they were our own?

But Buckley has become a master--he probably would spit at me for saying this--at masking an acute sense of the tragedies of history with what, to some, may seem a bitter sneer. Or more exactly, I suspect, he veils his own compassion with the bitterness of what he writes--as Shakespeare wrapped it up, long centuries ago, with his enduring line, "What fools these mortals be."

If all of this (the book itself) sounds overliterary, scrub that notion quickly from your brain. "High Jinx" speaks for itself--an entertainment, yes, as were those ancient Roman spectacles in which man slaughtered man, and Christian virgins prayed while lions crept toward them. A message, yes--if you must have your messages. A point of view? Oh, yes, for Buckley would squirt a point of view--his own!--into the rhymes of Mother Goose, if he had rewritten them.

And he may do that yet.

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