Saturday, June 26, 2010
In The Fullness of Time by Vincent Nicolosi
This book is about Warren G. Harding in the same fashion that the play ‘Waiting for Godot’ is about Godot. Our most dubious president of the twentieth century does make a brief appearance early in the book, but then his life is explored through flashback, recollection, hearsay and good old-fashioned gossip among the good people who live in Marion, Ohio. That is the hometown of Warren G. Harding, and of the main character.
Who is the book about then? It is about Tristan Hamilton, a man who decided very early in life that Marion, Ohio was the center of the universe; that all good things come from Marion; and who never changed his mind despite two world wars and a major depression. By turns he is cheerleader, apologist, campaign operative, and acolyte at the altar to Warren G. Harding. The president steals his lover, disappoints him repeatedly with his dalliances and philandering, and eventually leaves him wondering how a man with such a good start could end so badly. When there is nothing else to do, Tristan buries the president, builds his memorial, and becomes keeper of the presidential papers.
In addition to Tristan, there is his mysterious sister Adeline who may or may not have helped the president’s wife kill the president, and Mitzy von Leuckel, a local girl too ambitious and too pretty for her own good. The three of them swarm around Warren G. Harding like so many moths around a porch light.
A single question casts a long shadow across this entire book. Did Flossie, the president’s wife, kill him? The author coyly has Tristan vigorously defending Flossie for the entire book while at every turn repeatedly dipping into the supposed conspiracy from every angle. A secondary question is did Adeline help Flossie kill the president, and then kill a historian snooping around trying to implicate her in the assassination? Both questions remain unanswered leaving the reader swinging like an unlatched gate in an Ohio snowstorm.
Tristan’s recollection begins in November 1963 when the assassination of President Kennedy reminds him of all the controversy that surrounded the death of Harding. He spends much time on the similarities and the differences. He also reminds us again and again that Harding convened the first disarmament conference, initiated the first highway system in the United States, fortified Pearl Harbor, and reformed the Veteran’s Administration.
If this is beginning to sound like a big complex book, it is.
Tristan, the main character, remains a cipher at the end of 500 pages. One gets the impression that he would have fit in well with European nobility with his sense of honor, duty, and noblesse oblige. Why does he back Harding? It is hard to say. It may be because his father did, it may be because Harding is from Marion, and it may be because he likes the man. The reader is never sure. That sense of honor, duty, and perhaps a little blindness extends to the president’s wife, to his sister, and to some decidedly unpleasant facts about Harding’s administration.
This book is like an evening with your great aunt who wants to talk about a very old charm bracelet she is wearing. Every charm has a story surrounding it, and each story interconnects with the others in such a way that in the end it sums up to a telling of the wearer’s life. As such it is not a quick read. The reader will not find a story where the evil are punished and virtuous are rewarded according to some cosmic balance sheet.
Instead, you will find life. Good people make decisions that make sense within the logic of their lives. Opportunities are lost, bad judgments are made, people act heroically for the wrong causes, and still somehow people get on with their lives, and derive meaning from the chaos. It is a messy imperfect process in Marion, Ohio, and I suspect in the rest of the world also.