Incomplete Narrative

Imagine learning at the age of 23 that your recently deceased father was a spy

Harold Lloyd Goodall Jr.'s father was 53 years old when he died in 1976. A serious, apparently undistinguished, retired government worker, he succumbed suddenly, somewhere ... of something. The particulars of Lloyd Goodall's death didn't hold together. After a trip to a Veterans Administration doc to relieve a cold, he might have returned home to Hagerstown, Md., and died there.

That's what his wife said.

Or he might have gone to the VA, been treated for flu and died somewhere in Virginia. That's what the government said. No physician was named; there were no hospital records. An autopsy reportedly had him dying of pneumonia and/or Legionnaires' disease. Specifics were decidedly absent. One fact, however, could be pinned down: Had it not been for his abrupt demise, Lloyd Goodall would have testified before the Senate Select (Church) Committee on covert CIA domestic surveillance. As a variation on a theme that recurs throughout this memoir ... just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. A Need to Know chronicles Harold Lloyd ("Bud") Goodall Jr.'s reconciling the appearance of his family's life with the reality of it, of lifting the family rock and discovering under it the pale, spooky and ever-listening Central Intelligence Agency. Director of Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Goodall is well served here by his experience in the ethnology of organizations and communities. But it's the personal element that makes his book engaging. Goodall learned that his father was a spy the day after his father's funeral. Bequeathed three things--a Bible, a copy of The Great Gatsby and a diary--Buddy discovered that, rather than the ordinary government drone his father had passed as, Harold Lloyd Goodall Sr. had been "an extraordinary man ... a man who worked for a clandestine organization ... ran illegal operations during the Cold War (and) communicated using codebooks." The Bible and The Great Gatsby were his codebooks.

This was way more information than 23-year-old Buddy was ready for. Feeling ashamed and betrayed, he dumped the diary and wouldn't talk about it for years. Only when he found himself propagating the family lies to his own son was Goodall moved to re-examine it. Goodall organizes A Need to Know with a chronological central thread--his family story--and recursively casts out from there: He questions, examines evidence and others' experiences; he traces histories; he contextualizes events, muses, speculates, supports with theory, theorizes and then revisits the above. He draws conclusions from the personal and applies them to the larger world. His concerns include the effects of secrets and lies on individuals, families and their larger communities; the power of language; the significance of one's constructed narrative; the nature of the Cold War-reared childhood; the consequences to a free society of government-sanctioned illegal activity.

Goodall renders the family story well from the perspective of himself as a child. If "normal" to a child is life as s/he experiences it, then "normal" to Buddy Goodall included being catapulted from a small town in West Virginia to Rome, where his father became vice-consul of the United States; then to London and the Court of St. James; and then, without warning, the wilds of Wyoming. "Normal" also included an only child's obligation to care for parents whose personal demons manifested in madness and addictions. We don't learn much about what Lloyd Goodall actually did in the CIA. Buddy Goodall builds speculative cases based on research; he theorizes, and lets us draw our own conclusions. The diary named names--several of them historically significant--and Goodall paints a plausible, G-men picture featuring his father, CIA counterintelligence head James Angleton and British double-agent Kim Philby.

Central to A Need to Know are both family narrative and political implication. Goodall writes that he believes George W. Bush invaded Iraq to finish his father's "incomplete narrative" with Saddam Hussein. He finishes with a reminder that democracy is a fragile idea nourished by truth, not lies; that America is an experiment we could still ruin. He reminds us--quite affectingly--that there's more than one way to be a "patriot." And he proves--whatever his mother claimed--that a son can be fully "the man" his father was by arming himself with ideas and openness, rather than with stilettos and stealth.

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