BOOK REVIEW / Grim fairy-tales of the first family: 'Family Secrets: Ronald Reagan's Daughter Speaks Out' - Patti Davis: Sidgwick & Jackson, 14.99

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The Independent Culture
BEING the daughter of Ron and Nancy Reagan sounds pretty grim. There's Mom popping pills and eavesdropping on conversations. There's Pop ranting on about Commies when you're trying to watch television, then staring into space when you try to tell him that Mom's beating you like a gong every time she has one of her little freak-outs. This stuff is fairly routine but sometimes there are high points, like Pop getting you out of bed in the middle of the night to show you how to perform a tracheotomy on Mom, because she has these fits. Or Mom slamming the door in the gardener's face when he comes to the house asking for a glass of water because he's having a heart attack.

In shops Mom always makes a point of saying she's forgotten her chargecard (though her handbag is full of them) and then throwing a tantrum when the shop assistant asks her her name because she thinks everybody should recognise her. Then there are bothersome things like Dad suddenly coming home with a couple of older kids one day and saying 'This is your half-brother and sister - I forgot to mention them before.'

So, yes, one can see that Patti Davis has a point and that the Reagans were not ideal parents. On the other hand, how much of what she says should we believe? She admits in the book that 'I was an accomplished liar: I'd been raised on it.' After predictable teenage anorexia, she went on to become a drug addict (now cured) who grew pot in her back garden and sold it to friends. She tried to become an actress but never made it - she reckons Mom and Pop pulled some strings to block her career. She ran around after rock stars and is very proud of having had an affair with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and a one-night stand with Kris Kristofferson, and she went on television a lot when Pop became President to talk about her 'political growth', which taught her that bombs were a bad thing. She's had therapy, of course, oodles of it, but she still, at 39, sounds like the most irritating sort of 14-year-old. Yet buried within this self-serving farrago there are several facts about the Reagans which seem to contradict her whinge about parental neglect. Even when she was in her twenties and thirties and had slagged them off publicly more often than anyone could count, they were always 'there for her' in a crisis, ready to forgive and forget.

Even if we discount all her accusations, we are still left with a pretty clear insight into Patti Davis's character. And this insight is so damning that the question then arises: how bad a parent do you have to be to produce a daughter like Patti? Quite awful, I'd say.

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