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Fellow Travelers: A Novel Hardcover – April 24, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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 stage—with a whiff of impending nuclear apocalypse in the air."

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375423486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375423482
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #785,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For anyone who lived through the Joe McCarthy era and followed politics, this book is a wonderful read. The characters, real and imaginary, are

described in vivid detail, from the McCarthy committee and entourage to gay journalist Joe Alsop, to LBJ. The political and social aspects of this part of the plot seem very authentic. It reminds me of that other chronicler of Washington politics in the 50s, Allen Drury.

All of this hangs on a gay love story between a polished older aristocratic Protestant State Department official, the love object, and a young Catholic man who falls head over heels; the story has many twists and turns, but the older official at State is not emotionally available to reciprocate this unconditional and passionate love; he is instead into casual sex with pickups in bars and alleys. If the ending seems sad, that is what the 50s were like in America for many gay men who lacked any conception of an equal loving gay relationship.

There are many truly funny moments, including a D.C. law which says that a man cannot cruise a gay bar with drink in hand; stationary cruising was apparently ok.

The third theme in the books is the younger man's attempt to reconcile his

Catholicism with being gay; this is quite a struggle in the 1950s Church,

and is no more successful than the younger man's attempt to love a sophisticated older man who cannot reciprocate. Indeed, the parallels between the young man's relationship with the older man and his relationship with the Catholic Church run throughout the story.

I intend to read more Thomas Mallon books.
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This is the first book I've read by Thomas Mallon, even though I already own "Bandbox". I will be certain to read it now and probably all the rest. I was very young during the time this novel covers; but I find it fascinating. The novel has peaked my interest in Washington as a city. I've been there before; but now I really want to visit again to delve into the city. Even though it would probably be impossible to separate government totally from the city, this novel reminds us that Washington has and always will be a place to live as well.

An amazing amount of research was put into this novel. An unbelievable number of references to actual living persons during this period and actual events related to them add a touch of authenticity. Other individuals are woven into the story in minor ways to add an even greater feel of the 1950's. During a weekend visit to New Orleans, Tim even meets Clay Shaw at a time long before the Kennedy assassination and it's aftermath in New Orleans. Whether this meeting was based on an actual event or simply a narrative invention is not known; but the novel is full of these sidelines.

The story of Tim & Hawk was absolutely wonderful and so true to life as it was then. For the reviewer who gave the novel one star because he/she thought it would be impossible for two men to carry on a relationship right under the nose of all their associates without actually coming out, I just want to ask this person when he/she plans to remove the blinders. Men have always done this, especially then. In addition, it would be true to say that in most cases, they weren't fooling anyone except themselves in believing that no one knew. I guess it was a sort of 50's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" kind of mentality. Believe me it existed; it still does.
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Format: Hardcover
Thomas Mallon is known for his historical novels (DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, HENRY AND CLARA), so the fact that his new book, FELLOW TRAVELERS, takes place during the rise and fall of 1950s McCarthyism makes sense for his oeuvre. This is the tale of uber-WASP Hawkins Fuller and his hapless, devoted working-class Irish boy toy Timothy Laughlin, whose government job fuels both Laughlin's passion and Fuller's pity. Set against the backdrop of social conformity and moral confusion, the novel leaves no period detail unturned, from Perle Mesta's barbed wit to Joseph McCarthy's roving hands to DC's Cold War-era gay nightlife.

It must have been not just tempting but fascinating for Mallon to integrate past and present Washington, DC (his home) with a love story. Fuller and Laughlin are types, to be sure, but they are each fleshed out (and speaking of flesh, there's a bit more of it here than in many mainstream novels that include sex between men, and it's beautifully done --- not simply handled with deft euphemisms).

There are other types, too --- both fictional and factual. Mary Johnson, an administrator in Fuller's office who befriends both men, is a strong, single, Southern woman ahead of her time and gender by several decades. Since Mary's story is the warp that weaves together those of her closeted colleagues, it's a good thing she is the one character who manages to transcend her fate and figure out her own version of a happy ending.

As Fuller spins his own doomed future (career- and social-climbing cemented by marriage and fatherhood), Laughlin struggles more honestly and mightily with his own sexual and spiritual inclinations.
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