Trudy's dear friend Donald Frizzé has benefited greatly from their friendship. A widely recognized expert on the U.S. vice presidency and a frequent guest on Trudy's program, Donald's latest scholarly pursuit is a highly anticipated biography of Garrett Augustus Hobart, McKinley's VP. Exactly who anticipates this book is hard to say, and soon Donald finds himself dodging the awkward questions of plagiarism and his sexuality, frequently during the same conversation.
Amid tides of intrigue and shifting allegiances, this little town's extraordinary inhabitants swim helplessly, and alarmingly, toward their remarkable fates. With a bewitching sense of nostalgia, Jeffrey Frank has written an exquisitely funny, tender, and deeply perceptive novel that vividly invokes the simpler world of only yesterday.
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By Jeffrey Frank
Simon & Schuster
Copyright © 2008 Jeffrey Frank
All right reserved.
Not long ago, on a hot morning in late May, Trudy Hopedale telephoned, interrupting my work. She wanted me to dig up the names of famous people who had been guests in her house way back when. "I've been telling everyone that Lincoln liked to drop by," she said, with a charming giggle, "and General Patton. And that friend of Roosevelt's -- I can't remember his name. Archie Butt? Could you find out for me?"
I usually try to help Trudy, because Trudy will do whatever she can to help me. Trudy and Roger Hopedale are almost the finest pair in Washington, and even though it's gotten very hard for me to work with so many interruptions, turning down a request from either Hopedale was unthinkable.
"Also, we're having a few people over for dinner tomorrow, and wondered if you were free," Trudy continued, mentioning the names of her guests, almost all of whom I knew by name.
I accepted her late invitation right away (I almost always did) and, as usual, felt mild guilt at my inability to reciprocate. The Hopedales have a grand house, on P Street near Thirty-first. I live on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue, close to the university with its complement of noisy, intoxicated students. The Hopedales have space to entertainand, I believe, five bedrooms upstairs; I have two bedrooms, one of which serves as my study, and almost no room for guests, although the downstairs leads out onto a brick patio where I can serve drinks and hors d'oeuvres if the weather cooperates, which it rarely does.
"That's so sweet of you, to take the time," she said, and hung up, seemingly unaware that I had to set aside my own research in order to consummate this favor. I stared at a red spot above my wrist, the result of being bitten that morning by a mosquito; although I tried not to worry, I was aware, as everyone was, of the outbreak of West Nile encephalitis along the East Coast. All mosquitoes looked the same, but I knew that some were potentially deadly and that my bite might be a bad one.
As I say, I usually try to do whatever I can to help the Hopedales, who, in the past three years, have come to play such an important part in my life. I had met Trudy and Roger when I set out to write a biography of Garret Augustus Hobart -- William McKinley's vice president -- and after I discovered that Hobart had briefly lived in the Hopedales' house, I telephoned them out of the blue and impetuously asked for a tour. Once the Hopedales got past the idea that a stranger wanted to inspect their rooms, and that some historical clue might emerge, they could not have been nicer, and our friendship sprang up almost instantaneously. I suspect that is what launched Trudy's interest in local history.
A word about Trudy Hopedale, in case there's anyone who doesn't know who she is: First, she is an attractive woman, with sleek dark hair, although parts of her body are perhaps one size too large. I'm actually not sure how old she is, but I would guess about forty-five; it's hard to tell at that age. Roger of course comes from another generation -- he's at least fifteen years Trudy's senior -- and there were times, during their dinner parties, when he would look wearily at his wife, as if she were an eccentric appliance and he had lost the off button. This inner energy was a trait that served Trudy well in her job as a television hostess, where she was expected to bubble, as she put it, on cue. But even off camera, Trudy was likely to bubble; that was part of her appeal. Roger of course has been in the Foreign Service for nearly forty years, and he wrote a distinguished book called The Edge of American Power: The Paradox of Supremacy, which few took note of, probably because dozens of other books had roughly the same title. I've begun to worry about Roger, because he told me not long ago that he's working on a novel -- something made up -- and I think that he wants me to read it. Although he's still officially in the Foreign Service, he stays home a lot and seems, if I'm to be honest, a little lost.Iknow that when Trudy asked for her favor, I ought to have resented the intrusion; there had been far too many of them and my research in the last year or so has barely progressed. The truth, however, is that I was not entirely sorry at having an excuse to change subjects. In fact, after three years, and with deep regret, I was close to abandoning Hobart, out of a fear that there was nothing very interesting about his life. I know that some people in our circle consider me a dilettante, possibly because of my special area of interest, the vice presidency, but I also knew that the best refutation would be my own scholarship -- that is, if I could just get going.
Copyright © 2007 by Jeffrey Frank
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