Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Woman at the Washington Zoo

Marjorie Williams was a Washington political writer for a variety of publications, most notably Vanity Fair. This is a collection of her writings compiled posthumously by her husband after her death of liver cancer. The book is divided into three sections--one part political profiles, one shorter essays, and the final third more personal writings. I had read and admired many of the political pieces before without noting the author, including a scary profile of Barbara Bush and the great piece "Scenes from a Marriage" depicting the troubled relationship between Al Gore and Bill Clinton during Gore's campaign. Williams managed to get to the core of many powerful people and their motivations and find new angles on over covered stories like Princess Diana's death. As great as these pieces are, however, the real gems are contained in the last third of the book. Williams writes movingly of her complicated relationship with her alcoholic mother and of living with the diagnosis of cancer. She expresses gratitude for the privileges she has--connections, insurance, etc--to fight the disease while also lamenting the dehumanizing aspects of dealing with the medical system. There is a heartbreaking scene where Williams is helping her daughter get ready for Halloween while imagining her in the prom dress she probably won't live to see her in. Whether you come for the politics or the memoir aspect, you won't be disappointed.

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