“Spoken From the Heart,” is really two books. The first is a deeply felt, keenly observed account of her childhood and youth in Texas — an account that captures a time and place with exacting emotional precision and that demonstrates how Mrs. Bush’s lifelong love of books has imprinted her imagination. The second book is a thoroughly conventional autobiography by a politician’s wife — a rote recitation of travel, public appearances and meetings with foreign dignitaries that sheds not the faintest new light on the presidency of the author’s husband, George W. Bush.
In Spoken From the Heart (Scribner, 456 pages, $30), Laura Bush, 63, discusses George W. Bush‘s drinking before he turned 40, the distressing silence of the White House in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the car accident she caused at age 17 that killed a close friend and has haunted her since.
“It’s tough; it’s tough; it’s still hard” to talk about the crash that took place on a dark country road on Nov. 6, 1963, Laura Bush says. “This was a major tragedy in my life and shaped me, I think, in ways that I didn’t know then, that I didn’t see then, that I see now in retrospect.”
She was driving to the movies with a friend when she didn’t notice a stop sign until too late. Her father’s Chevy Impala smashed into the smaller Corvair Monza that Mike Douglas was driving, on his way to pick up his girlfriend. At the hospital, getting stitches in the emergency room, she could hear the choked sobs of his parents down the hall.
She never saw them again, never told them she was sorry — something she now regrets.
“It taught me something that’s a very hard lesson to learn … that things happen to you that you can’t change; tragedies happen that you can’t change,” she says. “You’d do anything in the world to be back three minutes before it happened and to have it stop. You just can’t. And I learned that ‘if-onlys’ are futile.”
As an adult, when parents or teachers ask her to write to young people who have been involved in deadly car accidents, she urges the teens to get counseling to deal with the aftermath.
“But I didn’t do that, and no one ever suggested I should,” she says. “Somehow 1963 Midland, in West Texas — what people really did was sort of swallow their troubles, and you didn’t really talk about it a lot. So that’s what I did.”
Criticizing the critics
There are things Laura Bush doesn’t deal with at greater length or with more candor. She doesn’t want to dissect the Obama administration that succeeded her husband’s. She has little time for critics who fault former president Bush’s decision to invade Iraq or his response to Hurricane Katrina.
No one doubted the intelligence findings (later proven untrue) that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, she writes, so why would he? And he flew over the devastation in New Orleans days after Katrina rather than stopping there because he was concerned about distracting rescue and relief efforts with the security and logistical demands of a presidential visit.
Instead, she faults his critics. She singles out Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for calling her husband a “liar” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for questioning his judgment, knowledge and experience. “He has none,” Pelosi once said of Bush.
“I think it’s really important for public officials to use some sort of decorum, for all of them to,” Laura Bush says. “George did. He would have never called anyone names like that, ever — certainly not the Leader and the Speaker. I mean, that’s just not constructive. And we see it today. It’s still happening today. It wasn’t just about George. Now it’s about the other side.”
The former first lady’s memoir is beautifully written, unselfconscious and hasn’t an iota of political mean-spiritedness.
Contemplating for summer reading…