Watergate: A Novel Hardcover – Feb 21 2012
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“We’re propelled forward and kept highly entertained by the colorful characters, the delicious insider details, the intelligence of the dialogue…What Mallon captures particularly well is the fundamental weirdness and mystery at the center of the scandal…It appears that Mallon’s primary goal, one he achieves with great finesse, is to make the portrayals of his characters as believable as possible.” –New York Times Book Review
“In [Mallon’s] practiced hands—this is not his first fling at historical fiction—the festering mess of 1972-74 becomes almost fun, actually funny, and instructive about how history can be knocked sideways by small mediocrities…Mallon uses his literary sensibility and mordant wit to give humanity to characters who in their confusions and delusions staggered across the national stage…let Mallon be your archaeologist, excavating a now distant past that reminds us that things could be very much worse. They once were.” –George Will, Washington Post
“Watergate manages to combine extensive research with the tools of fiction to provide a new perspective on an iconic episode in American history. It is sufficiently faithful to the facts to offer a compelling introduction for those who missed this astounding story as it unfolded in the early 1970s, and a fresh view for those who haven't thought about it in years…Watergate is the sort of book that will ensnare you in its web of intrigue…Mallon manages to deftly capture the peculiar mix of unbridled ambition, bumbling ineptitude, hubris, cluelessness and dishonesty that sparked such an all-consuming crisis in American government.” –NPR.org
“In this stealth bull’s-eye of a political novel, Mr. Mallon invests the Watergate affair with all the glitter, glamour, suave grace and subtlety that it doesn’t often receive. Written with the name-dropping panache of a Hollywood tell-all, it seamlessly embellishes reportage with fiction.” –Janet Maslin, New York Times 10 Favorite Books of 2012
“Mesmerizing …While clarifying the maze of connections among elected officials, political advisers, cronies and assorted power-mad or ideologically driven Nixonites, Mallon keeps the narrative moving at thriller-novel pace. Yet his writing always soars far above that genre's cliches…Like the best historical novelists, Mallon uses great public events as superstructure for classic themes of ambition and power, rivalry and envy, love lost and yearned for. In this sense, Watergate succeeds brilliantly. Like them or not, these tormented characters throb with life.” –Newsday
“Fiction of a remarkably high order…Fiction, to be sure. But just as acceptable as any of the factual explanations history has left us with.” –Washington Times
"It already can be said with some certainty that no Watergate retread will be as imaginative or as entertaining as Watergate: A Novel…Mallon, a master of the genre knows the dance between history and fiction…Full of telling, vivid detail…Mallon gets each of the characters with perfect pitch." –The Boston Globe
"A pleasurably perverse and darkly comedic thriller…a beguilingly intricate structure." –The Seattle Times
"An entertaining and surprisingly touching look at the 37th president's self-inflicted downfall…Watergate is finely polished. Gore Vidal and E. L. Doctorow were instrumental in resuscitating the historical novel genre in this country. Now that their best days are past, it is comforting to know that the patient is thriving in Dr. Mallon's capable hands." –The Miami Herald
"Brashly entertaining…Though thoroughly based on fact, this is unrepentantly a work of fiction…[Mallon's] characters still have the ability to shock. He regards them with humor but also with compassion, as their plans and hopes are ruined by chance and unruly human emotions." –The Columbus Dispatch
“An observant and interior study of power and how men and women manipulate it differently... a product of thorough research.” –Barnes and Noble.com
“A clever comic novel…Imaginative fiction can tell a deeper truth than writing that sticks to demonstrable fact.” –Slate
“If ever a historical event was worthy of a comic novel, it’s Watergate, and Mallon, with several outstanding historical novels to his credit (most recently, Fellow Travelers), has the skills to write it. What a cast of characters we meet!...Mallon writes with such swagger that it all seems new again. A sure winner, for its subject and Mallon’s proven track record as a historical novelist, and because it’s good.” –Library Journal
“Revisiting the history of the ’70s with our favorite cast of characters…While billed as a novel, this book reads more like a documentary of a fascinating yet unlamented time.” –Kirkus
“It’s a brilliant presentation, subtle and sympathetic but spiked with satire that captures [Nixon] in all his crippling self-consciousness, his boundless capacity for self-pity and re-invention…Mallon writes with such wit and psychological acuity as he spins this carousel of characters caught in a scandal that’s constantly fracturing into new crises.” –Washington Post
“In this stealth bull’s-eye of a political novel, Thomas Mallon invests the Watergate affair with all the glitter, glamour, suave grace and subtlety that it doesn’t often get.” –New York Times
“Mallon, astute and nimble, continues his scintillating, morally inquisitive journey through crises great and absurd in American politics by taking on Watergate…Mallon himself is deliciously witty. But it is his political fluency and unstinting empathy that transform the Watergate debacle into a universal tragicomedy of ludicrous errors and malignant crimes, epic hubris and sorrow.” –Booklist, starred review
“Mallon would seem to have the right mix of historical understanding and fresh whimsy to portray the craziness that was Watergate.” –Library Journal Seasonal Roundup
“Fascinating reading—and a surprisingly sympathetic treatment of Richard M. Nixon—it’s tough to top an account that features regular appearances by the tart and imperious Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Bonus: the author’s version of how (and why) those 18½ minutes of Oval Office tapes got erased.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Within the framework of the true, Mallon also has to find the plausible, which he has done in satisfying ways… Mallon renders the era, the people and the place in vivid detail.” –Los Angeles Times
“It is perhaps the unique accomplishment of Watergate, the excellent new novel by Thomas Mallon, to depict Nixon not as a moral to a story, a symptom of political pathology, or a walking character flaw, but as a man…The great reward in reading this wise and thoughtful and subtle novel is that it reminds us that our leaders are only human beings.” –Washington Monthly
“A master of the historical novel turns Watergate into a dark comedy, rotating point of view among the supporting cast, with Nixon as a sort of Malvolio—comical, pitiable, tragic.” –Newsweek, The Daily Beast
“Watergate is the fruit of canny artistic decisions that transform the crude fabric of bygone events into the stuff of fine—and fun—historical fiction…The author inhabits each of the characters with careful attention, deft humor and unstinting sympathy, mimicking habits of mind, foregrounding preoccupations and sketching in life stories as he moves the action forward.” –Washington Independent Review of Books
“Watergate feels true, even in the places that it might not be. More important, it's wildly entertaining from beginning to end, a compelling evocation of tragedy and farce, much like the scandal itself.” –Fort Worth Star Telegram
“This fictionalized version of the events surrounding the 1972 Watergate break-in proves that truth is at least as interesting as fiction, if sometimes even more incredible.” –Christian Science Monitor, 10 novels to watch for in 2012
“Entertaining and warm-hearted.” –USA Today
“It’s a testament to Mallon’s skill that he is able to balance the comedy and the tragedy, to show just how tragic these events must have seemed to their actors without ever letting us forget how farcical they appear with the benefit of hindsight…Watergate is a delightful novel—well written, well paced, and enjoyable. It achieves the main goal of historical fiction: it shows us just how strange, and how completely familiar, the past can be.” –Commonweal Magazine
“The ruthless, paranoid, sometimse farcically inept architects of America’s biggest political scandal seem more colorfully real than ever in this fictional portrayal.” –O Magazine
“Terrific…Mallon’s major achievement as he takes us from the eve of the break-in to Nixon’s resignation is to turn the scandal’s real-life players from yesteryear’s TV gargoyles into human beings…Two cheers for nostalgia.” –American Prospect
About the Author
Thomas Mallon is the author of eight novels, including Henry and Clara, Dewey Defeats Truman, and Fellow Travelers, and seven works of nonfiction. He is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review, among other publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is entertaining and I also think it provides some new perspective and understanding on Watergate. A fine piece of work, then.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The author uses an interesting mix of narrators - some well-known, some not so much - to tell the "story" of this third rate burglary, its aftermath and the subsequent downfall and resignation of President Richard Nixon. We meet Howard Hunt, ex-CIA, one of the burglars and maybe a little mentally unbalanced. Fred LaRue, good friend of John Mitchell, presidential aide and White House "bag-man". The First Lady Pat Nixon and Presidential Secretary Rose Mary Woods - both of these women exceptionally well developed in this book. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the elderly first daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, acerbic, still mentally sharp and the only one who seems to be able to connect the tragic dots of this scandal. (Alice nicknames John Dean the TST - the tortoise shell(ed) tattler.)
Elliot Richardson, the attorney general removed during "The Saturday Night Massacre" - and former Secretary of Defense, HEW and Undersecretary of State - spends some time in the spotlight, and is on the receiving end of a few barbs. (I don't know much of Richardson's "history" to make a call, but that he is presented here as "opportunistic" is an understatement.) John and Martha Mitchell also each play a role - Mr. Mitchell, Nixon confidante, former AG, head of CREEP, and the long suffering husband who took his eye off the ball; Mrs. Mitchell, the intoxicated, shrill, and wildly indiscreet elephant in the room and on the phone. And of course at the center of all this is Richard Nixon, who although not portrayed sympathetically by any means, is still very human here.
Just as fascinating are some of the players given bit parts in the novel. (Maybe because they're still alive, but there seems to be more to the lack of attention here than that.) G. Gordon Liddy is never on center stage and is off-handedly referred to by several of the above as a macho, overzealous, incompetent buffoon. Henry Kissinger pops in and out of the narrative - usually obsequious and insecure when he does. And just to keep the reader on his or her toes, there are several fictional characters; one of which adds a whole new dimension to Pat Nixon.
I found this an extraordinary book - maybe a tad long, but I'm not smart enough to identify what's not needed - and one where you rarely, if ever, feel the presence of the author. Not an easy task when you think about it. The only caveat I have is the amount of Watergate knowledge one brings to this book. Mallon drops the reader right into the deep end of the pool with his novel, and even with a fair bit of Watergate lore in my head I had to refer to Wikipedia several times. Still well worth the read and one folks will be talking about for some time to come.
Mallon's narrative technique is an interesting one. Eschewing almost all of the best known Watergate locales (the Senate hearings, Executive Office discussions, the Washington Post newsroom, etc), the author follows the unraveling scandal in the stories of second or third level participants. The moral dilemma of John Mitchell's bagman Fred LaRue is portrayed as is that of Saturday Night Massacre victim Elliot Richardson. Less attention is paid to Richard Nixon than to wife Pat (who is finally humanized by Mallon) and to Secretary Rose Mary Woods (whom the author cannot help). The marriages of John and Martha Mitchell and of Howard and Dorothy Hunt take center stage. Most interestingly, Nixon confidant and daughter of Teddie Roosevelt Alice Longworth brings historical continuity to this retold tale.
I was a Watergate junkie in the seventies. I detested Nixon and, recovering from a leg broken playing baseball, I watched the Ervin hearings live each day and parts of the replay in the evening. Even so, there is much that is new to me in Mallon's book. The problem may be for those readers who are not overly familiar with all that transpired in the early seventies. The structure of the novel assumes the reader knows what is happening offstage where, in fact, the most significant Watergate actions occur. This may make the book challenging for the casual reader.
With that caveat, I recommend this book as morality tale and effective political journalism. We once again watch amazed as an administration fritters away the most one-sided presidential election victory in history through a combination of paranoia, moral ambivalence, incompetence and bad luck. Concerned with a fantasy that Fidel Castro may be funding the DNC, the Committee to Re-Elect the President places listening devices in Democratic party headquarters and then returns to check them at a later date. The government unravels from there and the most powerful men in the world end up in prison except the President whose pardon dooms his party's chances in the next election cycle. Through all of this, no one in the administration ever ponders what the moral path should be. Jeb Magruder tells LaRue: "You know, Fred, we're not covering up a burglary, we're safeguarding world peace."
It is said that prostitutes and ugly buildings become respectable if they survive long enough for public perception to sentimentalize the object of scorn. The same may be said about errant politicians. Nixon's image seemed to improve as he aged out of the public eye and as memories of the greatest scandal in American political history faded. Mallon's book, like the movie Frost/Nixon, is an effective antidote to the tendency to forget and thus to sanitize the past.
As the ignoble tale of five men acting under the directions of the president's closest aides unfolded before our disbelieving eyes, as a corrosive trail of illegal wiretapping, illicit fundraising, devious cover-up, destruction of evidence, obstruction of justice, perfidy, calumny and just plain old dirty tricks lead straight to the oval office, I along with the rest of the American public was shook to my very core by the infamous scandal which tarnished the image of the highest elected position in the nation, which crippled government, and which caused us to loose faith in the presidency. Most Americans, I am sure, never suspected our nation to be so susceptible and so vulnerable to such crime.
That President Nixon could even allow such corrupt and covert perversions of executive will left most of us distrustful and pessimistic of the executive branch of government. I think we all grieved over the Watergate affair and wondered how the nation could ever recover from something as tragic and disgraceful...but we did!
And now, forty years later, we can finally look back with a different eye and see through the drama of history and perhaps find some comic relief in it thanks to author Thomas Mallon. Mallon adroitly takes us on a wild and wooly ride back in a time capsule directed straight at that infamous gateway to the greatest political scandal of twentieth century America...WATERGATE.
Mallon's interpretation is a fresh and humane treatment of the Watergate scandal. He breathes new life into Watergate's long and dizzying cast of characters, allowing us to get into their minds and look at the events of the Watergate catastrophe from their perspective.
Mallon spotlights the motivations of his cast characters in the Watergate affair as well as illuminates all the possible rationalizations they have for their own behavior. We come to understand why they do what they do from a more personal, intimate level. It is obvious that Mallon has done a superb job of researching his characters, right down to the quotations from them that he has worked seamlessly into the narrative and dialogue. The narrative is so familiar and close to the surface that the fiction begins to feel that it might be true after all!
History does not overwhelm Mallon's story but acts more as a backdrop for his clever plotting into the darkly humorous and melodramatic sides of those unforgettable events. The plot and the characters of WATERGATE may be historically accurate but not necessarily distilled from the obvious, more memorable headlines of the scandal that we are most likely to recall. Instead Mallon blends history with fiction so that actual history is not distorted, just embellished to entertain us and stir our imagination with a different twist to the old extensively dissected and vigorously debated plot.
WATERGATE is very authentic and at the same time it is new and imaginative plotting as well. The Watergate affair was of course a national tragedy but another non-fiction account would bound to be just more of the same sordid reading that we have seen over and over again for the last forty years. Instead with WATERGATE we have been given an intelligently crafted, fictionalized saga of drama, pathos, intrigue, suspense, romance, crime, and gossip.
Mallon brilliantly adds deeper dimension to the real Watergate characters we already know; brings lesser known characters to the forefront to add color and nuance; and creates highly credible new characters to drive the plot of WATERGATE to an intriguing denouement.
Mallon has proven that time has not dulled Watergate in our collective memory. With his splendid novel he has given us a sophisticated account of an event that took center stage in America forty years ago and still fascinates us to this day. I could have never imagined back in those heady university days that someday I would be entertained and even thrilled by the same events that rocked us so, eroded our public trust in our elected political leaders, and challenged our valued notions about the democracy we so cherish. All I can say is: "Bravo, Thomas Mallon for Watergate: A Novel!"
In 1972 I was a twenty-something young adult who had just voted in my first election. The voting age was 21 back then and I had just returned from a year tour in Vietnam in early 1972, not long before the curtain goes up on Mallon's political drama. This book makes no claims of being a PBS-like documentary on Watergate, but is clearly being marketed as a fictional Watergate novel which has been sprinkled with a hefty dose of actual participants, places and things to give it the feel of an authentic docudrama. If the reader expects to finish Watergate (The Novel), he or she will need to be patient, just like those of us who endured the real adventure of Watergate, a period when it seemed the political stage had slowed to a snails pace. In my opinion, the overly exuberant writer of the promo on the back cover of this book never actually read Mallon's book. The book was good, but certainly not the pinnacle of Watergate literature it is portrayed to be.
In most novels, the story centers on a handful of characters, while the sub-characters move in, out and around the central plot. Mallon's novel seemed more like a lateral string of events, bouncing from one character-group to another, and then back again. This, I think, added to the one-dimensional feel of many of the characters. It's possible that the story was just too grand in scale for a single novel. As a result, I was disappointed in the character development of so many of the faceless actors. Mallon's attempt to interject humor into the story was to some degree successful. I must admit I did grin at some of the silliness of Watergate. At other times, even though I was familiar with the details of Watergate and how the story ends, I still had to wade through sections of this slow-moving story. Though I suppose that since it has been nearly four decades since the break in, remembering as much as I did does say something positive for Mallon's book.
Why Mallon included an Epilogue is unclear. I suppose he felt the need to bring the reader up to date with what happened to the central characters after Watergate (1978-2004), but it ends so abruptly I turned the page to see if that was truly the end of the book. To my surprise, it was. To be honest, knowing the previous 400+ pages were factitious, the post-Watergate moments he chose to chronicle were so disjointed the Epilogue just didn't add any value to the book for me. One last thought concerning the circular image on the book cover, does anyone have a clue what it is and why it represents Watergate? Though I suspect I know what it is supposed to be, the fact that I have to ask this question should give a prospective reader some idea of what they will encounter in the book.
Overall, I did enjoy reliving such a significant period of the latter twentieth century political history, even though it was another black eye on the already dubious presidency of Richard Nixon. As indicated earlier, this novel was clearly a mixed bag for me. I guess since I was an adult during Watergate, I expected a more robustly developed story. So I do feel sorry for the reader who is only vaguely familiar with the complex players and political deception that made up the Watergate saga. In most cases, this novel lacked the mystery and suspense one would have expected. Specifically, why some characters did what they did during Watergate was completely left to the imagination of the reader. And it shouldn't have been.
I think I may know why this book fell short; Mallon failed to put himself in the shoes of his potential readers, especially those who are unfamiliar with Watergate. One frustrated reviewer even resorted to using Google to help make up for the lack of character information--even that proved futile. I'm not sure if even a scorecard would have helped to keep track of all the people, places and events in this book. Although I do think a section at the beginning of the book introducing the characters and key locations and providing a brief synopsis of each would certainly have helped.