The Brown Baggers met on June 20 to discuss Thomas Mallon’s Fellow Travelers. The historical novel takes place in Washington, D.C. in the early 1950s when Communism and homosexuality were considered “enemies of all things American.” At the center of the red and lavender scare is Tim Laughlin, a young devout Catholic and staunch anti-Communist, and Hawkins Fuller, an older, sophisticated State Department official. The men engage in a secret affair as Senator Joseph McCarthy leads a crusade to root out Communist sympathizers and homosexuals in the federal government and Army.
Many of the Brown Baggers found the novel was a lot different from what they expected. They were familiar with the anti-Communism movement–some remember watching the McCarthy hearings on television–but they had no idea the federal government, even President Eisenhower himself through an executive order, persecuted gays in the federal government. Although gay people still face discrimination and prejudice today, the fact that they were once barred from federal employment demonstrates the impact of activism in past decades, such as Stonewall, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Some were overwhelmed by the staggering number of characters and names, while others were engrossed in the details. All agreed the novel taught them a lot about the time period and they were drawn to the love story at the heart of the novel. They were most sympathetic towards the character of Tim, who wrestled with an internal struggle between his Catholic faith and upbringing and the experience of his first love. Hawk, as his name suggests, preys on others and was an amoral and despicable character. For many, the most interesting character in the novel was Mary Johnson, Fuller’s co-worker, who was a revolutionary feminist figure for her time period. Overall the Brown Baggers thought the novel was an authentic portrait of human nature and appreciated the realistic ending that stayed true to the characters’ personalities.
Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
PBS Documentary, The Lavender Scare
Cincinnati Opera production of “Fellow Travelers”
Interview with Thomas Mallon
Interview with Thomas Mallon in George Washington Magazine
The Brown Baggers will meet again at the Central Library on Thursday, July 18 at noon to discuss Noah Trevor’s Born a Crime.