Regan Burke was named after one of King Lear’s cruel daughters, just one of the surprises the author of In That Number would discover about herself while growing up. But Burke is anything but cruel. She fits into that category far-right conservatives spit out like a cuss word: bleeding-heart liberal.
In That Number is a heart-wrenching memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional family. While Burke says they were never evicted when she was growing up, she attended 12 different elementary schools. Drinking, cheating, and lying were her parents’ way of life. Grifters, she calls them.
Burke is just as honest about her own life, including her struggles with alcohol and drugs and the role Alcoholics Anonymous played in helping her eventually take charge of her addictions.
The book also takes readers into the real world of politics, and the roles Burke played in the political campaigns of such politicians as Adlai Stevenson, Gary Hart, and Bill Clinton. A meeting she had with Stevenson, who ate and drank while she and a fellow worker laid out campaign plans, was telling about why he lost. In the end, Burke concluded that because he hadn’t lost by a larger margin the defeat felt almost like a win. But whether winning or losing, all Burke’s politicians failed, in one way or another, to live up to her high ideals—especially when it came to keeping their pants zipped.
I found the title of Burke’s book a bit off-putting until I read its explanation in the opening pages. “I’m an unabashed American. I have a curious and insatiable need to indulge in the freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution … Whenever and wherever the saints go marching, I want to be In That Number.”
But the title struck home even more meaningfully for me when later in the book she wrote: “The hunger to be normal, to be in that number, is one of my fatal flaws.” It was Burke’s way of explaining why she had lied and told people she was going home to be with family one Thanksgiving when she was in Arkansas campaigning for Bill Clinton.
She had actually wanted to go home, but her dad didn’t want her to come. Burke ended up, at the last minute, eating dinner in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion with Bill and Hilary and an assortment of others who had nowhere else to go for the holiday.
In That Number provides readers with a first-hand look into both the ideals and flaws of both Burke and the politicians she chose to support. I found it to be an enlightening page turner that kept me reading late into the night. It was like having a front-row seat to past closed-door politicking, while reading about today’s latest political shenanigans.
Writing it, with no hold barred on truthfulness, Burke says, was her prescription to wellness and escape from pain. I believe it’s a book well-worth reading, and recommend it.