Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of the Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
I read this on the heels of reading Chasten Buttigieg’s 2020 memoir, “I have something to tell you.” As I expected, these are two very different, but also very complementary, books. What most people who read “Mayor Pete’s” book from 2019 don’t understand is that, combined with his husband’s memoir, the two books are nothing less than an epic gay romance. Two very different young men, both from the Midwest, each of them troubled by something deeply personal but entirely different from the way it troubles the other. Both men are virtual tropes of a whole genre of popular fiction.
Pete Buttigieg, who could easily be my son, is a very good writer. The book is full of richly-textured content and yet not burdensomely long. It is remarkably well crafted, and by that I mean structured so as to deliver the maximum effect in exactly the way the author wishes. Even the boring parts—like “how to manage a mid-sized Indiana city”—are actually engaging; and there is tremendous pleasure in reading the words of a man who is literate and thoughtful and, at times, poetic.
This is, however, and totally opposite to his husband’s more recent memoir, a very calculated, political book. This is not a criticism, but simply an observation. It is really well done, and I spent any number of moments staring off into space trying to imagine the editorial machinations that tweaked and polished and nudged every single chapter and subsection into exactly the right place for the right time.
“The Shortest Way Home,” I suspect, effectively describes and truly resembles the life it portrays. Pete Buttigieg is so much smarter in the largest sense of the word than I could ever be. His interests in civics and politics, even as a boy, took him far outside any set of interests I ever had. His scholarly abilities, his passion for knowledge (even esoteric and difficult knowledge—the description of his Oxford years nearly made me faint from my own sense of inadequacy) truly mark him as an exceptional person. There is no bragging, but also no false modesty.
Buttigieg’s astonishing feat of internal logic that turned him toward a completely voluntary side-career in the military (while, mind you, he was also the mayor of a city and still in his twenties), was so alien to me I had to stop and think through his reasoning. I ultimately disagree with his reasoning, but I understand it, and was rather moved by the moral purity of it. He is far braver than I ever have been, and I suspect that his military impulse was part of a larger internal self-preparation for the public arena (even if it was subconscious).
Other than two random uses of his name, Chasten Glezman and his role in Buttigieg’s life has no place in this book until it is three-quarters done. The idea of a famously gay man waiting until this late in a memoir to actually deal with the topic of his sexuality bespeaks a political savvy that is both impressive and a little chilling. Pete got a great deal of his name recognition for being the gay mayor of a midwestern city; but he knows (as I do) that the wave of his popularity rode on the embrace of lots and lots of straight readers. I get it; but I am like Chasten, and was out by the age of twenty, and met my husband as an undergraduate at Yale forty-five years ago. I know I’m not like Pete, but can’t help worrying that he’s one of those gay men who insists that being gay is “only one small part of who I am.” Could be. I could be wrong.
Regardless, I admire Pete Buttigieg and his book immensely. I was honestly in tears at the end, as he speaks of his love for South Bend Indiana and the life he has built there. He had not yet completed his unsuccessful run to be president when this book was published; but he knew it was a longshot anyway. This book is just as interesting and relevant now as it was then. This is a man who has a long view. He also has a great heart and a soul as honest and true as any politician I’ve ever heard of, including the famous ancestor after whom I’m named.
I hope Pete and Chasten make it to the White House someday. I really think they could change the world and make our country better. They surely couldn’t do worse.