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Sunday, March 23, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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''Dewey Defeats Truman''

Special To The Seattle Times

----------------------------------------------------------------- "Dewey Defeats Truman" by Thomas Mallon Pantheon, $24 -----------------------------------------------------------------

"Dewey Defeats Truman" is a kind of soap opera set in Owosso, Mich., the hometown of Thomas Dewey, during the months before the heavily favored Dewey's loss to incumbent Harry S. Truman in the 1948 presidential election. Characters arrive, intermingle, depart, but leave little sense of themselves beyond their "type."

Tim Herrick, for example, is the tortured rebel, whose older brother Arnie may have had an affair with the closeted gay schoolteacher Frank Sherwood, who lives next door to Anne Macmurray, the bright, charming employee of Abner's Books. She has two suitors pursuing her: Peter Cox, the rich, Republican candidate for state senator, and Jack Riley, the tough, kindhearted union man from Flint.

Her choice, the bookjacket informs us, "manages to mirror the national election contest in all its suspense, chagrin, and unexpected joy." Meaning the Democrat wins? Or the underdog?

My displeasure with Thomas Mallon's shallow treatment of his characters is evinced by the fact that I didn't care who Anne Macmurray chose, or what terrible secret Horace Sinclair, the town curmudgeon, was keeping - or how it related to the proposed construction of a Thomas Dewey tourist attraction. These, and all the other plot points come to a head, of course, on Election Night. A disappointment.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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