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Literature / Fellow Travelers

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A 2007 novel by Thomas Mallon, Fellow Travelers tells the stories of Timothy Laughlin and Hawkins Fuller, two closeted gay men in 1950s Washington D.C. They work together at the State Department, engaged in an on-again-off-again romance while living through the trials of the McCarthy era. Tim is the heart of the book, beginning as a recent Catholic college graduate completely out-of-touch with his sexuality. Hawkins Fuller provides his awakening, but at the cost of his happiness for quite some time.

The book is classic Lit Fic, a historical and character-driven novel without much in the way of a Big Bad or evil plot. Instead, the characters are up against themselves and the times they live in, two enemies not easily combated.

In 2016, the novel was adapted into an opera by Gregory Spears (composer) and Greg Pierce (librettist) and had its world premiere at the Cincinnati Opera.

In 2022, it was revealed a television miniseries adaptation of the novel was confirmed, with Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey in the main roles. The series was released in 2023.

The book provides examples of:

  • All Gays are Promiscuous: Averted for the most part. Fuller certainly changes partners when the mood strikes him, but Tim remains faithful to the point of obsession. Only when his relationship with Fuller is completely ended does Tim go after another man, and then it was someone Fuller had slept with before.
  • Bookends: Though the bulk of the novel is set in the 50s, it begins and ends in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union and Hawkins Fuller learning that Tim has died.
  • Death by Irony: Tim died of bone cancer, after it was constantly remarked throughout the book how much milk he drank and how strong his bones should be because of it.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Near the end of the book, Tim has lost his job due to being outed. His relationship with Fuller exists only in an abandoned building where they can be alone together. He's fine with all this. Only when he learns it was Fuller who outed him does he give in to despair.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Mary, a single woman in the 50s, might have been able to have an illegal abortion, but it probably wouldn't have been too safe. She instead chooses to leave town and quietly put the kid up for adoption.
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee: Fuller fears this, and is indeed hauled before a State Department sub-committee. They drill him about his sexuality, including asking to see him walk and make certain gestures in order to "prove" he wasn't homosexual. He passed their tests.
  • Historical Fiction: Set in the 1950s
  • Last-Name Basis: Mary considers Hawkins to be a silly name, so only calls him Fuller.
  • Love Hurts: Poor Tim. He is hopelessly in love with Fuller from the very first time he sees him right up until his death. But Fuller cheats, then takes him on a weekend getaway. Their relationship is awkward and hidden, and always on the verge of ending altogether. Tim actually joins the army because he thinks its the only way he can get away from Fuller. But he loses his nerve and contacts Fuller again, re-initiating their affair. Fuller is the one who ends it, outing Tim and preventing him from getting a job, thereby forcing him to move away and leave Fuller behind, all because he thinks its in Tim's best interest.
  • Queer Romance: Tim and Fuller's romance is the center of the book.
  • Red Scare: The backdrop of the narrative and the source of much of the tension. McCarthy's hunt for communists was also a hunt for homosexuals (as they could be blackmailed into spying on the Communists' behalf), which drives both main characters into their respective closets.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Tim, possibly. He only has eyes for Fuller, despite his target's many faults (promiscuity, fear of commitment, occasional mean streak). He's never tempted by another man. The only other man we know for sure he slept with was someone Fuller had slept with, as a way of connecting the two of them again, if only in Tim's mind. Even their friend Mary comments that Tim never loved another man when she tells Fuller how Tim died.
  • Straight Gay: Fuller, and to a lesser extent Tim.
  • Transparent Closet: Tim, to some degree. Hawkins and others recognize his sexuality long before he acknowledges it himself.