From the highly acclaimed author of Bandbox and Dewey Defeats Truman-a searing new historical novel about the competing claims of faith, love, and politics during the McCarthy era.
Washington, D.C., in the early 1950s: a world of bare-knuckled ideology, hard drinking, and secret dossiers, dominated by such outsized characters as Richard Nixon, Drew Pearson, Perle Mesta, and Joe McCarthy. Into this fevered city steps Timothy Laughlin, a recent Fordham graduate and devout Catholic eager to join the crusade against Communism. A chance encounter with a handsome, profligate State Department official, Hawkins Fuller, leads to Tim's first job in D.C. and-after Fuller's advances-his first love affair. Now, as McCarthy mounts an increasingly desperate bid for power and internal investigations focus on "sexual subversives" in the government, Tim and Fuller find it ever more dangerous to navigate their double lives. Drawn into a maelstrom of deceit and intrigue, and clinging to the friendship of a beautiful young woman named Mary Johnson, Tim struggles to reconcile his political convictions, his love for God, and his love for Fuller-an entanglement that will end in a stunning act of betrayal.
Moving between the Senate Office Building and the Washington Evening Star, the diplomatic world of Foggy Bottom and NATO's front line in Europe, Fellow Travelers is energized by high political drama, unexpected humor, and genuine heartbreak. It is Thomas Mallon's most accomplished and daring novel to date.
From the Hardcover edition.
McCarthy-era Washington, D.C., is as twisted and morally compromised as a noir Los Angeles in Mallon's latest, a wide-ranging examination of betrayal and clashing ideologies. The young ladies in the secretary pool are agog over dapper bureaucrat Hawkins Fuller, though his attentions covertly focus on newly minted Fordham graduate and good Catholic Tim Laughlin. Hawkins helps Tim land a job and, after feeling out the impressionable young man, makes a place in his bed for him. Mary Johnson, a friend to both closeted men, watches with rising alarm as Tim and Hawkins carry on their affair and Washington seethes in paranoia over Communists and "sexual deviation." Mary, meanwhile, succumbs to her own lustful yearnings and has an affair with a married businessman, leading to a predictable, though deftly played, quandary. The District's social milieu is solidly realized, with such period icons as Mary McGrory and Drew Pearson in evidence alongside political heavyweights-McCarthy, Kennedy, Nixon and the like. Less convincing, however, is the on-again-off-again and largely one-sided relationship between Washington greenhorn Tim and cold, calculating careerist Hawkins. Mallon (Bandbox; Dewey Defeats Truman) offers an intricate, fluent and divergent perspective on a D.C. rife with backstabbing and power grabbing. (May) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 23, 2007
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Excerpt from Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon
Part One: September-December 1953
In the era of security clearances to be an Irish Catholic became prima facie evidence of loyalty. Harvard men were to be checked; Fordham men would do the checking.
--DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN
Chapter One: September 28, 1953
Tim counted four big fans whirring atop their stanchions in the newsroom. Every window here on the seventh floor was open, and summer had officially departed six days ago, but that was Washington for you. When air-conditioning might come to the Star seemed to be a perennial matter of sad-sack speculation among the staff: "When hell freezes over," went one answer Tim had heard in his three months here. "Because then we won't need it."
Miss McGrory, one of the paper's book reviewers, arrived with a bottle of whiskey, which she set down next to the punch bowl and cake, whose single chocolate layer and frosted inscription, "Happy Trails, Sheriff," would soon be cut into by the retirement party's guest of honor, Mr. Yost, a pressman who'd been at the Star since 1912 and took his nickname from a weekend job he had as a constable over in Berwyn Heights.
More people drifted in. "We could use a piano," opined Miss Eversman, the music critic. She'd covered Liberace's concert two nights ago at Constitution Hall and was telling a police reporter that the pianist's mother had been in the president's box with one of Liberace's brothers, Rudy, who'd served in Korea.
"So she's got one boy who's a soldier?" asked the reporter. "Maybe she's got hope of grandchildren after all."
Miss Eversman laughed.
"Forget Liberace," said Mr. Yost, who'd started to reminisce about his first years here at the paper. "I remember seeing Wilson himself--that's Woodrow Wilson, not Charlie, to you youngsters--up in his box at Keith's Theatre. You wouldn't have figured it from an egghead like him, but did that man ever love his vaudeville. You could sell him any player-piano roll the minute it came out."
"We really do need a piano," Miss Eversman sighed, as the national and managing editors walked in. Mr. Corn and Mr. Noyes took up positions off to the side of things and remarked to each other, a bit shamefacedly, on the smallness of the spread.
"Well," said Mr. Corn, quoting the late Senator Taft's famously impolitic advice about higher food prices: "Eat less."
The party was making Tim feel nostalgic, and thus a bit foolish, since he'd been, after all, only a summer hire allowed to stay on through September--or, more exactly, this coming Friday afternoon. They'd put him in the city room, even though he'd never been to Washington before June and knew nothing about the District as a place where many citizens lived life quite oblivious to the federal government. His placement, he'd come to understand, was typical of the Star, a paper both venerable and feckless, produced each evening by an eccentric, occasionally brilliant staff. He had liked it here and would miss the place, but given the shortness of his tenure he wasn't sure he should even take a piece of the cake once it got cut.
A small stack of the paper's early edition lay atop an open drawer of the file cabinet he was leaning against. Ambassador Bohlen was flying home from Moscow to talk with Secretary Dulles, and this morning Louis Budenz, a Fordham professor and former red, had testified to the McCarthy committee that, in his "humble opinion," parts of an Army-commissioned pamphlet about Siberia--something put together to educate the Far Eastern Command--contained large chunks of Soviet-sympathizing stuff that had been taken, without footnotes or refutation, from Communist writers.
Cecil Holland, the reporter who'd written the Budenz story, now saw Tim reading it and asked, "Laughlin, you just graduated from Fordham, didn't you? Ever study with this guy who says the army's been indoctrinating itself?"