ATOMIC CANDY by Phyllis Burke


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A pop-art presentation of beauty (personified by Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kennedy) and the Beast (Richard Nixon) shaping the fortunes of a Boston Irish family, die-hard Democrats, in the years between Eisenhower and Watergate. Kate Kelly Albion and husband Joe are cartoon characters who respond to stimuli called Monroe, Kennedy, and Nixon. In 1952, the pregnant Kate, working for JFK in his US Senate race, is so outraged by Nixon's Checkers speech that she goes into labor. In California, Marine lieutenant Joe is so bewitched by Monroe as she entertains the troops that he insists the baby be called Marilyn. Both Kate and Joe are prone to sudden bouts of insanity; Kate is obsessed by the need for atomic fallout shelters. Once Joe has been elected Mayor of Boston--an effortless ascent--Kate creates her own shelter beneath City Hall. Gradually the spotlight shifts to their child Marilyn. She grows up hungry for love: Kate scarcely notices her until the mischievous eight-year-old smuggles a Nixon poster into their home. By 1969, she is a ""radical-left celebrity,"" living in a counter-sorority house, the star of a feminist protest at the Miss America pageant. When Kate has Joe confined for electroshock (he has been in a slow decline since Monroe's suicide), it is Marilyn who restores him to sanity by flying him out to L.A. to visit Monroe's crypt; and, finally, it is Marilyn who visits Nixon in his final hours in the White House, and absolves him of the sin of ugliness by running her hands through his hair. This first novel means to be cute and sassy, but it is neither; its repetition of catch-phrases (""tic toc electroshock"") soon becomes irksome, and its reluctance to differ from the received opinion of its historical figures shows an essential timidity; Burke has repackaged yesterday's news.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown