August 24, 2016 by kitmoss
REVIEW: FELLOW TRAVELERS
By Thomas Mallon
Publisher: Vintage (April 24, 2007)
It’s 1950s Washington, D.C.: a world of bare-knuckled ideology and secret dossiers, dominated by personalities like Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Joe McCarthy. Enter Timothy Laughlin, a recent college graduate and devout Catholic eager to join the crusade against Communism. An encounter with a handsome State Department official, Hawkins Fuller, leads to Tim’s first job and, after Fuller’s advances, his first love affair. As McCarthy mounts a 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. Moving between the diplomatic world of Foggy Bottom and NATO’s front line in Europe, Fellow Travelers is a searing historical novel infused with political drama, unexpected humor, and genuine heartbreak.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
REVIEW BY CHRISTOPHER HAWTHORNE MOSS
I was born in 1952, the year before this book begins. My parents were political, but amazingly enough I don’t remember anything about Joe McCarthy or Richard Nixon except that my mother hated him. She hated him because he had played some of his famous dirty tricks on a candidate that she cared for, Helen Gahagan Douglas. I do remember that the worst thing you could say to me was that I was a Republican bug. So it was interesting to me to read a novel where the characters were decidedly Republican. Timothy is both Catholic and Republican, but he was also gay. In fact at the very beginning of the book before you even meet him you know that he is going to die of AIDS. It has to amaze anyone who looks back over these sixty years or so realizing how much the world has changed, at least in the United States, when you consider that the McCarthy investigation of communists in the military and in the US government also targeted homosexuals. We are in the last throes of political censure of gay people and transgender people. Gay, lesbian, and transgender people are now permitted in the US military; all you have to do is read this book to see how much that is changed.
The basic story here is that Timothy has just come into Washington, DC, to get a job with the government. He winds up working for Sen. Potter, who is in charge of of a Senate committee doing various investigations, including McCarthy’s, Roy Cohn’s, and Richard Nixon’s paranoid investigation of communists. That at least McCarthy and Cohn experimented with gay relationships should either come as no surprise to a politically savvy individual, or might very well knock you off your feet. Hawkins Fuller, the older-man life, is generally self-assured and bold, but he knows how to cover his tracks. He keeps Timothy at arm’s length at first, but even after that has him convinced that anything Hawkins gives him is a gift. It is difficult to watch Timothy constantly beating on himself while letting Fuller get away with murder.
In the meantime in the background we watch the various heroes and villains of the McCarthy era misbehaving but also getting the confidence of the average American. I will be frank and say that this very much reminds me of Donald Trump and how popular he is with the populace. Fortunately we have 24-hour news coverage these days, which I am convinced would have been the death of Joe McCarthy. I honestly don’t think that the sort of contradictions, histrionics, and outright mistakes the candidate makes these days could survive constant surveillance. In fact even in the earlier time McCarthy slowly gets his comeuppance from not only the Democrats but the Republican president, Eisenhower, too.
It is inevitable that Timothy will have to distance himself from Hawkins. He joins the Army and is sent to Mississippi to write for the Armed Forces newspaper. In the meantime Hawkins gets the heads up that he has been a bit too bold, so he gets married and his wife gets pregnant. After two years in the Army Timothy returns to DC to work in a Hungarian refugee program. Nevertheless, when Hawkins begins to show interest in him again, he jumps right into bed. It takes a boldface betrayal to make him consider his own well-being.
This book has so much in it to consider compared to most GLBTQ novels that are published today. First you have the preppy New Englander who manages to be gay without any guilt, and the younger Catholic gay man who beats on himself with guilt and hands over his body and soul to the older man to do with as he wishes. This contrast seems to be more or less universal in politics to as politicians say one thing and mean another and insist on behaviors that they cannot even ape.