Harry Gold

Millicent Dillon, Author
Millicent Dillon, Author Overlook Press $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-58567-012-3
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 280 pages - 978-1-58567-244-8
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American chemist Harry Gold spied for the Soviets during the '30s and '40s; the FBI nabbed him in 1950, by which time Gold had already helped famous ""atom spy"" Klaus Fuchs steal secrets about the A-bomb. Biographer (You Are Not I: A Portrait of Paul Bowles) and novelist (The Dance of the Mothers) Dillon fuses the two genres here, producing an unstable amalgam of reportage and fiction. Her sympathetic, attentive narrator follows Gold from New York circa 1935, to New Mexico and Fuchs, to Gold's arrest and trial in Philadelphia. Sometimes Dillon chooses a fairly wooden style, one meant to give an assurance that she is ""telling the true story of a life."" She can stop to pick up bushels of facts, skip emotionally important moments, or try far too hard to explain: ""Yes, Harry nodded, though he felt terrible at the thought of not seeing Dave, for whose sake he had agreed to become involved [with the Party] in the first place."" But elsewhere, Dillon's prose enters into Gold's consciousness to create pockets of great beauty, brilliant portrayals of the inner life of a damaged, lonely man. She has a novelist's feel for the telling detail--e.g., the scampering of a leashed dog as Harry returns from one of his spy missions. Like Lee Harvey Oswald in Don DeLillo's Libra--an obvious model for Dillon's volume--Gold himself finally seems a classic schlemiel: unglamorous, nervous and manipulable, extending his favors haplessly to a series of spymasters, and motivated more by anxiety, friendship and vague morality than by worked-out ideology or self-interest. If Dillon's bio-fictional hybrid fails to achieve the strange unity of DeLillo's, it nonetheless provides a compassionate, informative view of a sad, unusual life. (Apr.)
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