Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Remembering Allen Drury

Today is the anniversary of both the birth and the death of one of my favorite writers.

His name was Allen Drury and he was born on this day in 1918. He died on this day in 1998.

In 1959, Drury — making use of his experience as a Senate correspondent for United Press — published his first novel, "Advise and Consent," which was a fictionalized treatment of a controversial nomination for secretary of state.

I say "fictionalized" because many of the elements of the story apparently were based on actual events during Drury's tenure as a Senate correspondent. As political novels go, "It may be a long time before a better one comes along," Saturday Review wrote. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960 and inspired a top–notch film in 1962. The screen adaptation was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Don Murray and Gene Tierney. Burgess Meredith and Betty White also appeared in relatively small roles.

My mother loved "Advise and Consent," and, as I recall, she gave me a paperback copy of it. It might have been a little beyond my years, but I read it, anyway — devoured it, really — and when I was done, I immediately wanted to read the sequels. He wrote five of them:
  • The first sequel, "A Shade of Difference," was set a year after the events in the first book,

  • the next two, "Capable of Honor" and "Preserve and Protect," continued the story into the next presidential election, and

  • the last two, "Come Nineveh, Come Tyre" and "The Promise of Joy," were alternate endings to the narrative. "Preserve and Protect" ended with an assassination attempt, but the readers didn't know who (if anyone) had been killed. The last two books were written as if different politicians had survived.
I remember that, one summer, I read them all, in order. I had found them at our local bookstore — in fact, I still have them, which is good because you can't find them in bookstores anymore.

Lately, I've been thinking about reading them again. And, while it's possible my opinion of them will be different, I'm inclined to think that my assessment of them will be the same as it was then. I thought they were very well written, although politically they seemed to lean pretty hard to the right, especially the farther I got into the "Advise and Consent" series. That should come as no surprise, really. Drury wrapped up the series more than 15 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I do recall being aware, as I worked my way through the last couple of books, of Drury's dependence on the word "sardonic." I don't remember when I first noticed it, but once I did, it seemed to be popping up in every other paragraph. I finally looked it up in the dictionary and discovered that I had come close to figuring out (based on the context) what it meant.

Also, with the Cold War as its backdrop, it shouldn't be too surprising that Drury's stories began to take on a decidedly anti–communist, anti–progressive flavor.

Drury wrote some other books that played on his experiences in journalism and as a reporter covering politics. One was called "Anna Hastings," the fictional account of a pioneering female journalist. He continued that timeline with a book about a senator, "Mark Coffin U.S.S.," but it really isn't much of a sequel. Anna Hastings, the focus of the earlier book, was reduced to something of a supporting character in the second tale.

"Mark Coffin U.S.S." was followed by two sequels, "The Hill of Summer" and "The Roads of Earth."

Other books stood by themselves. "The Throne of Saturn," written in 1970, was about the first manned mission to Mars. Drury also wrote a novel about the Supreme Court ("Decision") and the military ("Pentagon").

He wrote 21 novels between 1959 and 1998, and he also wrote three works of non–fiction.

Allen Drury would have been 91 years old today. I can't help but wonder what sort of story he might have written in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.