FINAL REPORTS: Personal Reflections on Politics and History in Our Time by Richard Rovere
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FINAL REPORTS: Personal Reflections on Politics and History in Our Time

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Revere, the New Yorker's nonresident Washington correspondent from 1948 to his death in 1979, was an uncommon presence--a graceful writer, a shrewd political analyst and sly social commentator (the Establishment was his spoof-invention), a dead-level critic of McCarthyism and the Vietnam War. We are as interested as he is in his quest for self-knowledge--but both his previous collection of personal pieces, Arrivals and Departures (1976), labeled ""memoirs,"" and this unfinished autobiography, labeled ""reflections,"" come up short. The new book, however, has its rewards--albeit different ones for those who've read its predecessor and those who haven't, and for readers of varying interests. As he relates in Arrivals and Departures and more briefly here, Revere discovered in later years that his father had ""created for himself an almost wholly fictitious past""--why, Revere doesn't know. His mother, to whom he felt less close, had clouded origins and odd pretensions too. The problem of identity (part black? part Jewish?) bothers him. To the lack of querencia--a home place--he attributes both his adaptability and ""what I feel is a certain thinness in my work, a certain choppiness, a reluctance to take on and complete any work that will take more than a few days or a few weeks."" This is patchy too (though the unfinishedness may be partly responsible)--and, since Revere is resolutely non-Freudian, without a sustained subtext. So the reader, though moved, must take on faith Rovere's epic arrival in 1937--after a spotty school career, a few odd jobs--at the Granville Hickses: ""the first really close family I had ever been in."" The ambience is wonderfully described: ""the country's best-known Communist man of letters"" living, without electricity or a phone, in a ""kind of Tobacco Road North."" Thereafter, two life-passages stand out. In Arrivals and Departures, Revere wrote of his youthful radicalism as a college contretemps; here, he attempts to account for his 1930s communism (ins-and-outs of the New Masses) and bitterly and vividly recalls his break-away at the Hitler-Stalin Pact. ""The truth hurt, but I took it as a revelation: never again."" In Arrivals and Departures, he also wrote a good deal about Harold Ross; here, compressing the Ross stories, he recounts his own advent at the New Yorker in 1944--making more of William Shawn and, most interestingly, detailing the inception of the ""Letter from Washington."" (In retrospect, it wasn't right to think of ""reviewing"" Washington doings--aesthetically, like a book or film. Politics doesn't stand alone.) New Yorker watchers will also find him correcting Brendan Gill. The bulk of the rest is not biography--save for some late thoughts on his fatal illness--but notes on ""Presidents and Politicians,"" largely as of the 1950s (and outstanding on Taft and Vandenberg). Faults and all, not to be passedup by Revere admirers, students of '30s radicalism, or New Yorker mavens.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday