three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Fellow TravelersPeople often remember the McCarthy Era in terms of black-and-white. The public debate on Communism—either you were or you weren’t a Communist—was a thinly veiled pretext for other perceived forms of social and cultural deviancy, including homosexuality. Viewed through the romantic relationship between Park Avenue WASP and State Department rake Hawkins Fuller and idealistic, working-class, and Irish-Catholic Senate aide Tim Laughlin, this portrait of paranoid mid-century Washington, D.C., features a rogue’s gallery of historical players (McCarthy, Nixon, Kennedy), as well as intrigue, romantic entanglements, and the McCarthy witch hunt. Fellow Travelers makes the personal political while exposing politics as the most personal of pursuits.
Pantheon. 368 pages. $25. ISBN: 0375423486

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The weakness of many historical novels is that the history is reduced to a theme park in which the characters cavort but represents little more. The historical import of McCarthyism helps Mallon avoid that pitfall to a significant degree: The personalities of his characters are securely tied to the environment in which they exist and represent varied potential responses to it." Art Winslow

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The fairly graphic sex scenes are a surprise from this normally circumspect author, but they reveal aspects of the characters we could not have seen in any other context. They also give Fellow Travelers an edge quite different from the sorrowful poignancy with which Mallon portrayed equally ill-starred unions in Henry and Clara and Two Moons." Wendy Smith

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mallon is an observant researcher, religiously loyal to facts. With chronological and material exactitude, therefore, he reveals the moral and political turbulences churning beneath the tranquil (or as Robert Lowell would put it, tranquilized) waves through which Ike steered a barnacled ship of state." Ariel Gonzalez

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"One can’t help but applaud Mallon’s refusal to cede to the arbiters of good taste, not to mention his flouting of the workshop masters who insist that in novels politics must be reduced to an easily digestible pablum." David Leavitt

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"The spiritual journey of [Tim] Laughlin is Mallon’s true focus, though, even as he layers his period piece with the personalities, movies and history of the early 1950s. Unlike his earlier books, however, this novel seems forced and the cultural references contrived." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

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."