In today’s Washington Post Book World, NPR host Scott Simon writes a glowing review of Stephen L. Carter’s new novel of political and family intrigues in the 1960s, Palace Council. Mr. Carter, a professor at the Yale Law School and a bestselling and critically admired novelist, serves up a cast of characters that mixes his fictional creations with real people — including a just-pre-presidential RN.
Mr. Simon appears to be so surprised —and impressed— by Professor Carter’s “sympathetic” depiction of 37-in-waiting that he mentions it twice and then elaborates:
Carter’s vignettes of historic figures, including Hughes and Hoover, display both scholarship and imagination. But his portrait of Richard Nixon is pitch-perfect and sympathetic enough to remind us that, in 1960, Nixon was a more outspoken supporter of civil rights than Jack Kennedy (who was as reluctant to irritate the Southern segregationist powers of the Democratic Party as he had been to censure Joe McCarthy). The Nixon of Carter’s creation is socially awkward, sensitive to slights, frantic for approval and morally oblivious. He drags Eddie along to pay a midnight visit to students encamped on the National Mall before a huge rally against the war in Vietnam.
“Johnson’s war, not mine,” Nixon says to Eddie between bites of bacon over breakfast afterward. “Kennedy started it. Doesn’t matter. If it happens on your watch — and we can’t abandon them. Cut and run. America doesn’t do that. . . . Not a matter of right or wrong. Matter of reputation.”
It’s time, indeed, past time, that RN’s sterling civil rights record was reexamined and celebrated; so who cares if the revision begins embedded in fiction.
Now Carter’s hefty tome (514 pp.) can provide an escapist respite from Rosen (640), Black (1184), Rosen (640), and Perlstein in the growing stack of should- and must-reads (Lord Black’s biography) about the man who said that the one thing he never was was boring.