Book news for August 31, 1990 -- John Buckley and Dennis the Menace made news this week

By David Browne
Updated August 31, 1990 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cutting the Grass
Media consultant and novelist John Buckley isn’t running scared, but some of his characters and plenty of his peers are. Buckley’s second novel, a comic thriller called Statute of Limitations, describes the dilemma of a presidential speechwriter who is blackmailed by his college roommate over past drug use — a scenario that has struck a very raw nerve in Washington’s young political set. ”We’re talking about a generation where just about everybody used drugs,” says Buckley. ”An entire generation is vulnerable to being blacklisted or blackmailed because of past drug use — it’s a situation rife with comic potential.” Buckley realizes that writing Statute of Limitations sets him up for questions about his own past, and he has his answer ready. ”I’ll tell you — Nancy Reagan taught me an important thing: ‘Just say no.’ I was born in 1957 — my generation is forced to lie. Telling the truth is fraught with peril.”

Boomer Baby
Dennis the Menace, born late in 1950, was a Dr. Spock baby. ”That’s when Dr. Spock was flying high,” says Hank Ketcham, Dennis’ creator — who, by the way, does not blame the famously permissive baby doctor for Dennis’ terrible behavior. Even though he turns 40 this fall, Dennis is still — and always will be — ”five-ana-half.” To celebrate his comic-strip-style birthday, Abbeville Press is publishing The Merchant of Dennis, an autobiography of Ketcham as well as a retrospective of the towheaded scamp, based on Ketcham’s real-life son. ”At four years,” Ketcham writes, ”Dennis Ketcham was a thirty-six-pound handful. Too young for school, too big for his playpen, too small to hit, not old enough for jail — and one hundred percent Anti-Establishment.” What would Dr. Spock think of Dennis the Menace? Ketcham responds, ”He’d say, ‘There’s a real h hlthy boy and I hope everyone has the pleasure of having one in their own house.”’