Lynne Cheney and the Anxiety of Influence

How a soft-porn classic begat a memoir by the vice president’s wife.

Lynne Cheney's Blue Skies No Fences.

Lynne Cheney is the wife of the vice president of the United States, a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She has just published a memoir of her early years, one that (to quote the jacket copy) tells of “little girls [who] wore dresses, but still played rough-and-tumble games.” The book’s title is Blue Skies, No Fences.

Gael Greene's Blue Skies, No Candy.

Gael Greene is a columnist for New York magazine, where she was restaurant critic from 1968 to 2002. In 1976, she published a soft-porn best seller, one that describes (to quote the author) ”what sex could feel like to a woman.” The book’s title is Blue Skies, No Candy.

Cheney is surely aware of Greene’s exuberant fuckfest of a book. The veep’s wife maintains a lively interest in culture, both high and low, and during the mid-1980s, she was a senior editor at D.C.’s local variant on New York magazine, the Washingtonian, where she often covered the book business. Moreover, Cheney’s own occasional walks on the literary wild side are so maladroit that it’s easy to imagine her seeking guidance from a more seasoned writer of erotica. In her 1981 novel Sisters, for example (click here for the complete text), Cheney explored lesbian themes chiefly by describing her protagonist’s aversion to heterosexual sex:

He kissed her, forced her lips open with his mouth. She could taste the whiskey he had been drinking, feel his whiskers and the scab on his face. A wave of revulsion swept over her, and she pushed him away. As he fell back, the white bulldog moved toward her, his growl becoming louder. “Ah, feisty, isn’t she, Luper?” Wilson stroked the dog. “Well, sometimes that kind’s the most fun.”

In The Body Politic, a novel Cheney co-authored in 1988 with her Washingtonian colleague Vic Gold, a vice president dies while having sex with a network correspondent. In this passage (from a draft excerpt that appeared in the March 1986 Washingtonian), a White House speechwriter is interrupted by the paramour while writing the veep’s withdrawal statement:

It never occurred to me that she and my employer might be giving new meaning to the media term “one-on-one,” because despite rumors about the Vice President’s after-dark proclivities, I was under the impression that his taste in extramarital sex ran to Newport and Southampton blue bloods.But when I saw Ramona at the top of the townhouse stairs, a flesh-colored peignoir covering her telegenic torso, things fell into place: On one of the most critical nights of his career, the Vice President had opted to salve his wounded ego by bedding down with the doyenne of network sexpots.

“I have never written anything sexually explicit,” Cheney told CNN when Sisters emerged as a campaign issue in 2000. How did we miss what in retrospect was a tinge of regret?

It’s been three decades since I last saw the well-thumbed paperback of Blue Skies, No Candy passed around Beverly Hills High School, but earlier this year Greene published a memoir, Insatiable: Tales From a Life of Delicious Excess, that covers some of the same ground. Here, for instance, Greene describes shagging Elvis Presley (click here for an audio version):

He sized up the room and astutely realized I was the only female in it. He slunk directly toward me, slender in shiny black faille trousers and a sheer blue short-sleeved eyelet organdy shirt, till one leg was brushing my thigh.

“And who are you?”

I babbled something.

He didn’t seem to be listening. Silently, he took my hand—yes, still gloved—and led me to a bedroom. I was thinking, Oh my God … this is Elvis… . I am going to do it with Elvis. I am not going to be coy. I will not make him talk me into it. He didn’t ask. I didn’t answer. He closed the door, dropped his pants, and lay on the bed—very pale, soft, young—watching me take off my clothes and, yes, at last, my little white gloves. All the way up on the 24th floor, I could hear the girls chanting on the street below: “We want Elvis. We want Elvis.”

And look who has him, I was thinking.

Compare that with this passage from Blue Skies, No Fences in which Cheney writes about an early sexual encounter of her own:

In the J’s, I found James Joyce, whom I wasn’t sure I’d heard of, but one of his books was called Ulysses, and that sounded familiar, so I checked it out. When I opened the book on the bus on my way home, I nearly fell off my seat at the graphic descriptions of sex—though with no punctuation, you had to concentrate hard to catch them. Somebody would be thinking about the weather and then suddenly veer into territory that was entirely new to me—and pretty interesting. Did Miss Burke, the librarian, have any idea what she had on her shelves?

Cheney remains stuck at an early stage in her maturation as a writer of female erotica. I urge her not to give up. For her part, Greene informed me via e-mail that she has never met Cheney, but “I have no doubt she has read Blue Skies, No Candy.”

The woman is married to Dick Cheney, an unreliable marksman as we all know…where else would she turn but to fantasies of being like my protagonist, Kate Alexander, an impassioned adulteress in the afternoon?

“I am sure,” Greene concluded, “she wishes she were me.”