cover image The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy

The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy

William F. Buckley, JR.. Little Brown and Company, $25 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-316-11589-6

As a fictionalized biography, Buckleys portrait of red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy is an earnest but plodding affair that occasionally yields intimate descriptions of the dynamic yet flawed leader who exploited fear of communism in the nooks and crannies of America. As a political novel, though, it makes peremptory claims regarding the postwar anti-Communist movement, with the well-known politically conservative author (Nearer, My God) attempting to justify the moral frenzy with a variety of uneven scenes describing Soviet infiltration and British skullduggery. Buckleys primary narrative vehicle is Harry Bontecou, a Connecticut history professor who tells the story of his involvement with McCarthy in an extended flashback. After graduating from Columbia, Bontecou goes to work for McCarthy, only to find his own passionate pursuit of conservatism betrayed by the senators penchant for half-cocked, extemporaneous accusations of treason. McCarthys proclivity for self-sabotage becomes more pronounced as his committee hearings progress, forcing Bontecou to distance himself from his mentor as the backlash grows. The depiction of McCarthys upbringing on a Wisconsin chicken farm is affecting, as are the scenes describing Bontecous moral dilemmas and McCarthys losing battle with the bottle. But Buckley is more focused on defending anticommunism than on developing his story line, and while he does note the travails of those working with McCarthy, whats missing from this account is the suffering of those whose lives were torn apart by unsubstantiated allegations. History seems to have offered a more balanced judgment on the McCarthy era, and the clarity of that judgment often makes Buckleys narrative seem dated and archaic. Time Warner audio; author tour. (June)