Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mr. Truman, Mr. Pendergast and Mr. Bridge

Still reading the massive McCullough biography of Harry Truman.  Not the least of its merits is the leisurely and richly-textured account of the soil that he sprang from--the Scots-Irish small farmers (and slaveowners) who in a sense may embody better than any Jeffersonian dream that we build our network on a panoply of self-sufficient proprietors.  Also its quaintly ironic foil: the Pendergast machine that dominated Kansas City for much of Truman's life, recognized in its time as perhaps the most successful and effective of all the big-city political machines.  Ironic in the sense that though the Pendergasts launched Harry, and though he remained loyal friends with the Pendergasts till the end, still he was always more "of" than "in"--specifically, never even remotely on the take for the graft that drove the engine and finally brought it down.   For god knows we'd know about it if he had been, considering the number of challengers who had the incentive to destroy him if they could find any way to do it.

And here in my Saturday NYT is one more layer of nuance: the death (at 88) of Evan S.Connell--indefatigable writer whose best work may be his paired novels, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, about the sheltered and stifling life in KC's (but it could have been any city's) upper-middle-class suburbia (you may remember it from the only really convincing movie Paul Newman ever made).   It's been a long time since I read the book (or saw the movie) but here's the thing: I can't remember a single snippet of either that would put you in mind of either the hardscrabble farmers in the countryside or the gambling and boozing ward bosses down in the river bottoms.  No moral here, except: complicated world.  Like I say, richly textured.

Afterthought: But if there is a connection, maybe it is here.


Ken Houghton said...

"Made" or "directed"? The former claim has to deal with a Larry McMurtry adaptation.

Buce said...

Not for me it doesn't. Paul Newman always seemed to me to be a thoroughly affable man with an excellent salad dressing, repeatedly miscast by bankers who wanted a pretty boy no matter what was called for by the script.