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One of our finest novelists, Thomas Mallon, has eloquently wrestled with the mystique and unknown history of the Watergate scandal and how its cover-up by zealous subordinates in the Nixon administration led to the downfall of Nixon's presidency in his latest novel,"Watergate". Told from the different perspectives of seven major characters, Mallon gives readers a cinema verite-like exploration of Watergate as seen from members of the Nixon administration as well as some long-time Republican allies. Much to my surprise, Mallon's shifts in perspective from one character to the next as the plot progresses merely strengthens the reader's understanding of their motives, as well as demonstrating the high caliber of his literary craft. By his own admission, noted elsewhere, Thomas Mallon's most fictionalized character is Fred LaRue, whose appearances are like those of some demonic herald announcing the latest misfortune of one notable character or another. I was also surprised to see Nixon portrayed somewhat sympathetically as a restless, tortured soul concerned with the great issues of State between the United States and its adversaries, most notably the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, helplessly sucked into the Watergate scandal cover-up by zealous subordinates like Colson and Haldeman; his most dignified moments occur when he decides that, for the country's sake, that he must resign from the Presidency. My most favorite character is Alice Roosevelt Longworth, whose acerbic wit nearly steals the many scenes she is in; in real life, Longworth was as much a keen observer of Washington's political scene as her fictional doppelganger demonstrates repeatedly throughout the novel. To his credit, Thomas Mallon has written a most compelling work of historical fiction that may leave readers with answers to some of their most vexing questions regarding the scandal as well as ponder new ones that remain unanswerable.
Thankfully I have read a handful of nonfiction efforts covering the weirdness that was Watergate. This helped mentally sort the players and their stakes in the unbelievable and ultimately silly events. So having some depth of knowledge is important to the enjoyment of this fictionalized account. An effort that is very well thought-out. It is the fact that book reads like a very slow soap opera is what gives it credibility. Not every interaction between these characters is going to provide a stupendous revelation. Yet, as events unfold we are treated to a voyeuristic "could have been". It is hard to dismiss Mallon's take of what may have transpired behind the scenes. The book really moved when dealing with Pat Nixon, Alice Roosevelt, and the Hunts. Truth is stranger than fiction and these actual historic figures add to the strangeness. The author disrobes and lays bare Watergate for what it was ... both high comedy and low tragedy.
Who would ever have thought Richard Nixon could be a sympathetic protagonist? Who would have thought that the Watergate break-in could be considered a tempest in a teapot? Howard Hunt was sentenced to 33 months in jail for a first offence charge of a break-in, the most in judicial history. While the Watergate investigations are going on, Nixon has begun the first dialogue with China since it's revolution, He ended the Vietnam War, completed the first SALT talks with Russia regarding the proliferation of nuclear warheads and brokered peace in the Middle East. Mr. Mallon writes a convincing and strangely engaging novel comprised mostly of dialogue and minor intrigues among incidental figures who would have a huge impact on the political heritage of a figure who, if Mr. Mallon is correct, was unfairly maligned. Definitely worth a read.
Mallon takes the mountain of documentation and disgust that is Watergate and turns it into an enlightening and quite entertaining spectacle. Taking the perspectives of different real characters within the Watergate scandal, Mallon enlightens us by giving us various perspectives on the crisis. Each narrator is unreliable in his or her own way, but by showing them all to us, Mallon gets us closer to narrative truth. Mallon makes full use of fictional license to incorporate possible explanations for various events in the story, including a different possible explanation as to why the Watergate breakin happened in the first place.
This book is entertaining and I also think it provides some new perspective and understanding on Watergate. A fine piece of work, then.