Levi Johnston threw up three times before he and the Palins arrived at the Minneapolis hotel where they would stay for the Republican National Convention. He was nervous. So nervous, in fact, that while everyone checked out the clothes bought for them by the Republican National Committee, Johnston pulled out a piece of chewing tobacco, intent on using it to calm himself.
His would-be mother-in-law, Sarah Palin, stopped him.
No chew, do you hear? she said, Johnston wrote. I don't want to see any spitters.
This anecdote is one of many that portrays Palin as an attention-seeker intent on hiding anything that might embarrass her, and Johnston as an Alaskan boy who is out of his element. This plays into an underlying theme of the book, that if Johnston had not impregnated Palin's daughter, he would still be living an ordinary life in his beloved home state, far away from the tumultuous, media-scrutinized existence the Palins would begin to lead.
It would be easy to say that Johnston takes cheap shots at the Palin family, but Johnston is just as frank about his own throughout the book. His father cheated on his mother for several years with a woman he eventually married. His sister posed for Playboy magazine. His mother was busted for selling her own pain medications, allegedly out of desperation for money to get by, and served prison time before being released for medical problems and put under house arrest. Johnston said that while Sarah Palin called his family trailer trash on television, her husband's half-sister was serving time for misdemeanor theft and criminal trespass.
But Johnston said they were still a family of huggers who loved each other and ate dinner together, which made them the complete opposite of the Palins. He said that Sarah and her husband, Todd, were aloof with each other, affectionate only for photo-ops, and had a hands-off parenting approach. Their oldest son, Track, was a suspected troublemaker who went into the armed forces under suspicious circumstances. Second daughter Willow kept her distance from her family, but always knew what was going on with each member and threatened to hold it against them. Youngest daughter Piper was the spunky one, the only Palin child who adored her mother and supported her campaign efforts. Then there was Bristol. Johnston writes: It was Bristol, the housekeeper and nanny, who gave Todd and especially Sarah the freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted, as their oldest daughter took on what should have been their responsibilities. Parenting is more than leaving fifty bucks on the kitchen counter.
Johnston's comments and observations contradict something Sarah Palin said in a 2009 interview with Barbara Walters. We didn't see a lot of Levi, she said when Walters asked what she thought of Bristol's boyfriend. Bristol told us that she was pregnant. That was probably only the second time that we had seen Levi there in our living room having a conversation with us like that. But Johnston had been spending a great deal of time in the Palin home long before he and Bristol became pregnant. At least that is how his book reads. Johnston describes sitting and conversing on the sofa with Palin on many afternoons until Bristol came home from school. He said Palin insisted he call her by her first name. When Bristol showed up, the older woman would leave them alone and go to her room, where she ate an every day dinner of chips and Diet Coke.
Johnston alleges that Sarah was very secretive when pregnant with son, Trig. She did not tell anyone about the pregnancy until her seventh month, including her own family. Hiding it from the public is one thing, but from her family? Johnston wrote. In the meantime, she hid her growing bump as best she could under loose clothing. She ignored consistently leaking fluid in her last trimester to continue traveling and delivering speeches before finally going back to Alaska to give birth. According to Johnston, rumors about Bristol being pregnant circulated long before she was pregnant with Tripp. When Palin's eldest daughter called her mother at work and cried about the rumors, the latter woman allegedly said too bad.
Johnston also paints Sarah Palin as a woman who enjoyed showing off her body and flirting with men other than her husband.
Sarah Palin lovers will deride this book- if they elect to read it at all. As for Sarah Palin haters, they may not take the book too seriously, but they will surely relish seeing her bad-mouthed just the same. Parents, whether they preach abstinence or birth control to their teenage kids, may find an unexpected teaching tool in Johnston's memoir. Had Johnston used protection, or had he just refrained from having sex with a young woman who he says was eager to get pregnant and lied about taking birth control, he would probably be living the low-key life he wanted, rather than be engaged in a high-profile custody battle for his son with a young woman who he surmises is being manipulated by her mother.
That's the real moral of this story, and its greatest tragedy.