From Publishers Weekly
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)
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It's notable that many critics, even those that otherwise praise Fellow Travelers
, censure Thomas Mallon for occasionally letting facts impede a good story. As in his past historical novels, including Henry and Clara
and Dewey Defeats Truman
, the author veils scrupulous research with well-constructed, insightful plots. This time, reviewers feel Mallon stretches to weave period references into this highly personal novel. Otherwise, Mallon, a resident of Washington, D.C., and a member of the National Endowment for the Humanities, balances the demands of history with the delights of fiction, delivering a nuanced, entertaining story of a time in the nation's capital he calls "full of juicy, play-for-keeps characters on the main stagewith a whiff of impending nuclear apocalypse in the air."
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.