A fictional portrait of Joe McCarthy – sympathetic but not sanitized – in which clay feet replace cloven hooves.
Here’s 20 year-old McCarthy needing to pass a written exam in order to get back into high school. But he’s not good at written exams. To him, it seems more efficient simply to draft a friend to take the test for him. Some years later, running for his first elective office and facing a popular incumbent, he informs the tax-jittery electorate that his rival has earned between $175,000 and $200,000. He neglects to add that it took 20 years for this sum to accrue. Sharp dealing, half-truths, and innuendoes abound, and McCarthy detractors will point to these as the mark of the man. But Buckley wants his readers to see McCarthy through the eyes of Harry Bontecou, the novel’s second-string hero. Harry, young, brilliant, politically conservative, and fervently anti-Soviet, views McCarthy as standing in the nation’s first line of defense against an enemy far too lightly regarded. It’s the man’s constancy, courage, and foresight that draw Harry to him. To Harry (as to McCarthy), it’s clear that only fools or villains can doubt that “loyalty risks” operate in the State Department, shaping (and corrupting) American foreign policy. Harry signs on with the redhunting senator, and through him we witness most of the events constituting his meteoric rise and calamitous fall in just a four-year period starting in 1950. We watch the offstage McCarthy as well – the easygoing charmer, the blindly loyal friend, the smitten lover, the hapless drunk. And then, at the climactic Army-McCarthy hearings, we see him come apart, the victim of his own excesses. But, according to his friend Harry, he’s never small-minded or mean-spirited.
Brisk, engrossing, vintage Buckley (Brothers No More, 1995, etc.). Given that it’s a tale unabashedly partisan, it is – for the most part – surprisingly credible. (Author tour)