Review of Thomas Mallon’s Watergate: A Novel

I loved this book. Watergate: A Novel

It took me back, behind the scenes, the turbulence, the acrimony, the finger pointing, and the very real and, at times, fearful national tension and angst, to the most historic event of my late teenage years. By the time Richard Nixon resigned in August, 1974 I was facing my junior year of high school and it would be only two short years (long though to a teenage boy) before I would vote in my first Presidential election in 1976. Thomas Mallon’s newly released fictionalized account of a 27 month time frame (May 1972 to August 1974) and beyond – (30 years in fact beyond to 2004) of American history that, on the heels of Vietnam, brings back the names of Halderman, Erlichman, Mitchell, Dean, Colson, Liddy, Hunt, and Nixon, does a wonderful job of taking us back to the mid-1970’s and political minefield and battleground that became simply known as “Watergate.”

Mallon has done a wonderful job of bringing out the tension that was known then; the deal making, the trials and investigations, and the resignation of an American President  and adding a wonderful dimension to the story that humanizes and yet stays close to the actual turn of events. He does so, I think, with the additions of  Pat Nixon, Eliot Richardson, Rosemary Woods, Nixon’s secretary,  Alice Roosevelt Longworth, and. very importantly, Freddy LaRue whose actions form a narrative spinal cord to which the rest of the story (and stories) are attached.

Written in a journal-like frame of reference, with dates for chapter headings, Mallon journals the Watergate drama in a straight narrative fashion, and I think, primarily through the eyes of LaRue who is a go-between for those responsible for the break-in at the Democratic National Offices and those who are trying to provide money to them (to some “hush money”). As he does so he does a great job of interweaving relevant back stories, notably between Nixon and Longworth, that add depth to the psychological and historical dimension of both Watergate and American politics and politicians. In a notable scene which has Longworth coming to the White House in the wee hours before Nixon was to depart we get a glimpse of a tread of historical continuity that the building itself has though Presidents, and their families, come and go:

“Alice pointed out the exceptionally bright lights that appeared to be on in the East Room. Several of the people who’d attended her wedding there had filed past Lincoln’s body in the same space forty years before that, but none of this was on her mind now; her attention and her will were fully focused on the present moment.”

What I liked about this book was the clean and untangled narrative that allows the reader to focus on the unfolding story without getting lost in side bar stories. The characterization was also simple, crisp, and within the boundaries of historic fairness and yet was deeply human and honest. And while there are no heroes in this story, the very human element of the main characters provide a moving and, I believe, somewhat sympathetic treatment of all the characters without favoring one or the other.

On my rating scale I rate this an “outstanding” read.

Note: I received an advance reader’s copy of this book from the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review of it. I was not required to write a positive review.

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