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About Utah: Bill offers no insight in ‘My Life’

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Of the 957 pages, the nearly 300,000 words and the 32 pages of photographs, my favorite writing in Bill Clinton's just-published autobiography is on page 114.

He's talking about his stepfather, Roger Clinton, the man he refers to as "Daddy."

It is 1967, Daddy has just died of cancer, and Bill Clinton is a college student at Georgetown. Bill joins his mother, Virginia, and his half-brother, Roger, for the funeral in his boyhood home in Hot Springs, Ark. The autumn day dawns dreary and rainy, prompting this narrative:

"Often when I was a boy, Daddy would stare out the window into a storm and say, 'Don't bury me in the rain.' It was one of those old sayings without which you can't make conversation in the South, and I never paid all that much attention when he said it. Somehow, though, it registered with me that it was important to him, that he had some deep dread about being put to rest in the rain. Now that was going to happen, after all he had done through his long illness to deserve better . . .

" . . . Then, as we turned off the street into the narrow way of the cemetery, inching toward the freshly dug grave, Roger was the first to notice that the rain had stopped, and he almost shouted to us. We were unbelievably, irrationally overjoyed and relieved. But we kept the story to ourselves, allowing only small, knowing smiles, like the one we had seen so often on Daddy's face since he had come to terms with himself. On his last long journey to the end that awaits us all, he found a forgiving God. He was not buried in the rain."

If you wade through the mountain of prose in the former president's life story — and millions are reportedly paying the $35 retail price to do just that — you'll find gems of writing and character, nuggets worth savoring that make it clear that William Jefferson Clinton is an inordinately intelligent, gifted and accomplished human being.

His father died in a car accident before he was born; his working mom was a nurse, a chain-smoker and a regular at the racetrack; his first stepfather, the above-mentioned Roger, was an abusive alcoholic; his second stepfather was a felon; his half-brother spent 14 months in prison for dealing cocaine.

And he was a Georgetown graduate, a Rhodes scholar, a Yale law graduate, an attorney general, a governor and the 40th president of the United States.

If it wasn't a true story, no one would believe it.

So is the book a page-turner? A tear-jerker? Something that finally lets us understand Bill?

Well, there are moments. But in a book that could sink a medium-size tugboat, they're rather far between.

The author, who wrote every word in longhand, is adept at painting word pictures of people, as long as he's not one of them. In telling his life story, Bill Clinton has made the same common mistake so many others have made: He told it himself.

That might be OK if you're Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter — presidents whose memoirs have no real expectations. You expect them to be self-serving and boring.

But Bill Clinton has a few things to clear up, and the disappointment of his book is that even with a largely terrific eight years of prosperity as president behind him, and even with 957 pages to do it in, he still can't muster a satisfying explanation about his character. He apologizes, a lot, but always with an asterisk. Everything, from Gennifer to Monica to the untruths he told, is justified.

Having to be right can really mess up a good life story.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.