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Richard Eder

The Red White and Blue by John Gregory Dunne (Simon & Schuster: $18.95; 475 pp.)

March 01, 1987|Richard Eder

"I do not think Leah seriously expected her motion to carry. It did, however, give her an opportunity to work on a defense, to see how it would play for the record but before a jury was chosen and sworn. The transcript does not indicate how effective her performance was. I can see now the point of the simple and expensive clothes. The white silk blouse and the Italian suede skirt drew attention to her, as did her diminutive size. She became a well-groomed, non-threatening presence, and when she bent and whispered into the ear of Mercury Baker, sinister in his prison denims with the white letter P stenciled on the back, her arm draped casually on his massive shoulder for support, she was somehow able to make him appear less threatening also.

Leah was always a believer in the value of effect. In later years, after we were divorced, she took to wearing a large square-cut diamond solitaire in court. She bought the ring herself, I suspect as an aggressive act, a reaction against the expectations of her radical sympathizers. She liked it, and she wanted it, and no one could ever tell her what she could and could not do. She claimed that women on a jury always noticed the ring. I do not know how true this was--I have never put much faith in the totemic rituals of courtroom psychology--but I do know she would always play with that ring when she talked directly to a jury, twisting it constantly around her finger as she laid out her scenario of the events in question. One more note about sartorial effect. If her client were a woman, Leah would arrange at least once during the trial for the defendant and herself to wea1914726756who in some subliminal way might perhaps wonder how the defendant could be as guilty as the state claimed if she and her attorney went shopping for matching I. Miller black pumps. I mention these things only to indicate that however often Leah was portrayed on radio and television and in the newspapers, most especially my father's, as simply a courtroom harridan mouthing slogans

and cant, she was also not immune to the usual vanities and superstitions that instilled confidence into her fragile psyche, and might even have helped her clients.

Although harridan she could be.

And slogans and cant she did mouth.

'Who is the real criminal?' Leah said that morning in Department 34. 'The man imprisoned? Or the society that imprisons him?' "From "The Red

White and Blue."

Asmall surge has taken place lately about the long, devoted marriage of two very different writers. Joan Didion is known for her fine-grained, penetrating stories of disquiet and quiet corruption among privileged Americans at home and abroad. John Gregory Dunne writes in knowing and lowdown detail about cops, crooks and courtrooms; it is genre fiction of a high standard.

Yet there has been a trickle or two of convergence. Didion's last novel, "Democracy," is a subtle and thoughtful book that relates American narcissism to the damage it does around the world. It is thoroughly Didionish in subject matter, in its ability to convey the stale moral air in her world of well-heeled influence, and in its narrative style. This is allusive, nervy and faintly disjointed, suggesting both the lassitude of her narrators and the urgency of what they have to tell.

Protruding from the wan and dangerous characters in "Democracy" is a free-booting former Army officer. He is a mercenary, a loner and a man of prowess. He is not a tough-guy hero, exactly, because he is not a hero; but he does perk things up. There is something of a Dunneish quality to him.

In Dunne's "The Red White and Blue," convergence is no trickle but a flood. His protagonist is familiarly his: tough but wounded, knowledgeable but adrift, addicted to shading but needing a black-and-white setting to do it in, and attractive to women. But he has been turned loose in a doomed Didion world, where national politics and drugged morals mesh with Hollywood, big money, manipulation and radical chic.

Jack Broderick is not simply turned loose in this world; he narrates it. Apparently passive, he controls it by knowing everything and coloring it with his abrasive and world-weary judgments.

Jack is the second son of a new dynasty. His father, Hugh, is a self-made tycoon who in many respects suggests the late Joseph Kennedy. Irish-Catholic, a ruthless fighter, he is a billionaire, more or less, and wields enormous political and economic influence. In the pile-on style that marks and often overfeeds the book, Dunne has him refusing the offers of four different presidents to be secretary of the Treasury, while advising De Gaulle about the franc, and Mayor Daley of Chicago on politics.

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