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Dave Wood's Book Report, Sept. 26, 2007

Two books about politics for your consideration this month.

Thomas Mallon, author of "Dewey Defeats Truman" and six other novels is out with a book about the McCarthy Era -- Joseph not Eugene.

It's called "Fellow Travelers" and involves the gay life and politics in Washington, D.C. Tim Laughlin, a recent Fordham grad, devout Catholic and gay person comes to Washington as an intern at a newspaper.

At a cocktail party thrown by Tailgunner Joe, he meets a State Department official Hawkins Fuller and falls in love with him. Fuller is an unsavory character and things begin to heat up when Joe McCarthy changes his focus to "sexual subversives."

There's lots of snappy dialogue, especially in D.C. newsrooms where there's all manner of speculation about McCarthy's sexuality, his relationship with Roy Cohn, etc.

Harmony Books has jumped on the bandwagon to exploit the popularity of the Peter Morgan's new Broadway play, "Frost/Nixon."

Back in the 1970s, James Reston Jr., a young college professor and the son of the famous journalist was hired by Britisher David Frost to research former president Richard Nixon's activities that led to the Watergate scandal. Frost's motive was to get the goods on Nixon, embarrass him on a TV debate and regain his own popularity with TV audiences, after having sunk into obscurity since his wildly successful earlier show, "That Was The Week That Was," a brilliant satirical review of political escapades on both sides of the Atlantic.

Frost succeeded and Reston now tells the story of the work he did to help Frost win the day. "The Conviction of Richard Nixon, which was written in 1977, but never saw the light of day until now, is not altogether satisfying because Reston seems self-serving in his attitudes and self-congratulatory in his description of how he helped Frost.

The most instructive part of the book is Reston's unpacking of what a superior talent was hiding under David Frost's apparent glib superficiality.

"And Grace Will Lead Me Home: Images of the Prodigal Son from the Jerry Evenrud Collection," by Robert M. Brusic (Lutheran University Press, $40) is a feast for the eyes and also demonstrative of the power of art.

In his preface, Evenrud, a retired minister of music tells of what got him started collecting art about the prodigal son, while he worked at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire many years ago:

"[Artist Robert Hodgell exhibited a print at church which] featured the parable of the Prodigal Son. Crouched between two large Iowa sows was the forlorn son. On the cuff links of the son's shirt Hodgell etched the hedonistic symbol of the Playboy Club -- bunny ears -- and placed in his back pocket a whiskey flask.

This contextual update for the first century biblical parable prompted one member of the congregation to say, 'Every time I pass that damn pig picture I think, but for the grace of God and AA, I would be there myself.'"

This beautiful book is full of pictures from the fifteenth century forward. There's even a Hogarthian set of prints in which the son and his father both wear tricorn hats and look as if they're off the stage set of "Tom Jones," in which the son revels with prostitutes, etc.

At book's end there's even a Peanuts cartoon, in which one of the characters is reading to Charlie Brown and Snoopy: "But while the son was yet at a distance, his father saw him and embraced him. And the father said my son was lost, but now is found! Bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and be merry!" To which Snoopy thinks "What did the calf do to deserve that?"

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and a former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-Mail him at