AT THE STILL POINT: A Memoir, by Carol Buckley (Simon & Schuster: $23; 242 pp.). "It is clear that we grew up in entirely different families," former Sen. James Buckley once wrote his sister Carol. "I wish you could have been a member of mine. It was fun." Carol Buckley was indeed a member of one of America's most famous political and literary clans. But she was the youngest of 10 children. Her parents were middle-aged when she was born and most of her siblings, including National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr., were already grown. Her childhood was one of horses, debutante balls, grand estates in Connecticut and South Carolina, private schools and trips to Europe, but it was also, she reveals in this memoir, one of "growing loneliness."
Buckley doesn't blame her family for her two failed marriages, depression, suicide attempts, shock treatments and alcoholism. Although reared mostly by servants, she loved her dashing oilman father and her bubbly, profoundly religious mother; she yearned to join the circle of "los grandes," her older siblings, and despite their patrician reticence--"the expression of any emotion whatsoever . . . causes discomfort"--they seem to have cared for her deeply. The deaths of the two sisters closest to her, Aloise and Maureen, as well as the stillbirth of one of her own babies, precipitated her breakdown. Buckley's later path in life--losing her Catholic faith, learning to live without a man, becoming a social worker, venting long-buried feelings--follows roughly feminist lines, and we expect her, somewhere along the way, to repudiate the conservative ideology the rest of the Buckley family has promoted. But she doesn't. For all her self-image as an "un-belonger," loyalty, in the end, wins out.