The Washington Post
Watergateby Thomas Mallon
From one of our most esteemed historical novelists, a remarkable retelling of the Watergate scandal, as seen through a kaleidoscope of its colorful perpetrators and investigators.
For all the monumental documentation that Watergate generated—uncountable volumes of committee records, court transcripts, and memoirs—it falls at last to a
From one of our most esteemed historical novelists, a remarkable retelling of the Watergate scandal, as seen through a kaleidoscope of its colorful perpetrators and investigators.
For all the monumental documentation that Watergate generated—uncountable volumes of committee records, court transcripts, and memoirs—it falls at last to a novelist to perform the work of inference (and invention) that allows us to solve some of the scandal’s greatest mysteries (who did erase those eighteen-and-a-half minutes of tape?) and to see this gaudy American catastrophe in its human entirety.
In Watergate, Thomas Mallon conveys the drama and high comedy of the Nixon presidency through the urgent perspectives of seven characters we only thought we knew before now, moving readers from the private cabins of Camp David to the klieg lights of the Senate Caucus Room, from the District of Columbia jail to the Dupont Circle mansion of Theodore Roosevelt’s sharp-tongued ninety-year-old daughter (“The clock is dick-dick-dicking”), and into the hive of the Watergate complex itself, home not only to the Democratic National Committee but also to the president’s attorney general, his recklessly loyal secretary, and the shadowy man from Mississippi who pays out hush money to the burglars.
Praised by Christopher Hitchens for his “splendid evocation of Washington,” Mallon achieves with Watergate a scope and historical intimacy that surpasses even what he attained in his previous novels, as he turns a “third-rate burglary” into a tumultuous, first-rate entertainment.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
The New York Times Book Review
“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
“What makes Mallon’s fictional take on the events so interesting is that he is able to impart a perspective of 40 years and cast the individual players in what he perceives as the probable reality of the time…the mythic players become human and often comic or, in Nixon’s case, tragicomic. Watergate is an expansive fictional look at Watergate, but more precisely a look at the events that followed and how they affected the players after the bungled break-in.” –Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
“Nowhere had the folly of politics been more thoroughly on display than during the televised unfolding of the Watergate Scandal. The trick of fiction is to mine that folly; Thomas Mallon has done so with expertise, uncovering in the process an unexpectedly moving tale that mixes pathos with comedy, regret with hubris, exposing the very human underside of folly.” –KUER, Salt Lake City NPR
“With great aplomb, historical novelist Thomas Mallon reimagines the operatic drama of Watergate through the eyes of the gang-who-couldn’t-wiretap-right, filling in the blanks.” –Vanity Fair
“The ruthless, paranoid, sometimes farcically inept architects of America's biggest political scandal seem more colorfully real than ever in this fictional portrayal.” –Oprah.com
“The scoundrels and victims at the heart of America's worst political scandal come vividly to life in Mallon's imaginative re-creation of Watergate…there should be unanimous appreciation for his skill in employing fiction to tell larger truths about a momentous era in American political history. There are moments in Watergate, some of them wickedly funny, that sound more like an episode of The Sopranos than conversations at the highest level of American democracy. Whatever may have motivated the conspiracy, Mallon's well-informed and wise account reminds us of the risk to democracy when a group of powerful people decide that retaining power is their paramount goal.” –Shelf Awareness Pro
“Mesmerizing, difficult to put aside, in true Dickensian form…Mallon’s strength as a writer is his characterization. And in Watergate, he is starting with known eccentric characters, fascinating characters.” –Counterpunch.org
“Never less than entertaining. Watergate demonstrates how a novelist can peel back layers of personality and motivation that historians must leave undisturbed…Watergate is a vivid and witty novel.” –Wall Street Journal
“Once Maggie Smith finishes imperiously dictating everyone's life at ‘Downton Abbey,’ there's another acid-tongued arbiter of taste just waiting for her: Alice Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt's daughter. In Thomas Mallon's densely intelligent new novel, Watergate, the octogenarian Longworth owns every scene she surveys, although she’s frankly not impressed by the quality of the current crop of courtiers…The dialogue is top-notch.” –Christian Science Monitor
“Anyone convinced that the actual events of Watergate surpass any fiction an author could manufacture has not reckoned on the skill of Thomas Mallon. In fact, the more you know about Watergate, the more you will enjoy his novelistic re-creation of that remarkable time.” –Daily Beast
“Exceedingly entertaining…portrayals throughout the years, from the rightfully acclaimed performances of Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella to even Dan Hedaya’s acting alchemy in Dick never seem to capture the man in full. It’s Mallon who has finally figured out the secret sauce: Richard Nixon defines us more than we could ever define him. He is his own archetype… Mallon has far surpassed the basic goal of any successful work of historical fiction. History doesn’t just come alive in Watergate, the novel feels more real than fact.” –FierceandNerdy.com
“This is an epic, pure and simple, an ambitious novel about the perils of power told with unrelenting skill and prowess. Mallon’s big ideas, big names and big events are balanced out by well-crafted prose, pitch-perfect dialogue and gripping pacing…he has crafted a fictional re-examination so rich with detail that the events don’t feel as though they happened more than 30 years ago. Watergate feels new and thrilling again in his hands, and that makes this a can’t-miss book for historical fiction fans.” –Bookpage
“Flawlessly written.” –Santa Fe New Mexican
“Superbly entertaining fiction…Mallon's insightful novel is a dream realized, not only for Watergate junkies but also for anyone fascinated by politics and human folly.” –Richmond Times Dispatch
“The most poignant of Thomas Mallon’s eight novels, Watergate renders the villains of the most notorious 20th-century political crime human again…Watergate succeeds because by highlighting his characters’ complexities, Mallon infuses his novel with more truth than mere particulars of the crime can convey.” – Louisville Courier Journal
"Historical fiction that unfolds with the urgency of a thriller...Mallon persuasively teases out the psychological drama of a story with a foregone conclusion." –New Yorker
“Mallon’s book is a fresh look at Nixon’s downfall and well worth reading.” –InForum.com
“Thomas Mallon’s fine, funny imagination makes a better story of Watergate than the ‘facts’ and the ‘news’ ever did…Thomas Mallon makes American politics interesting all over again—an intensely absorbing arena of strong, consequential characters, each with their histories and hang-ups rendered in depth and detail.” –Radio Open Source
“Watergate, one of the best novels of the year, is entertaining, profound—and tragic.” –The Charlotte Observer
“I’ve come to believe you can often find more truth in fiction than in the news. I was reminded of that when I read Thomas Mallon’s new novel, Watergate, a lively, insightful, and moving account of the scandal that lent its suffix to every political scandal that followed it. It’s a brilliant book, one of the best novels about Washington, D.C., I’ve read.” –Real Clear Politics
“Fascinating…Mallon has a subtle wit, and this imposition of his political novel over the historic record…is a daring gambit.” –National Review
“As with most fiction, Thomas Mallon’s Watergate is far from factual, but it reads true…A crackerjack of a novel, particularly for those who lived through the day.” –Utah Daily Herald
“In Thomas Mallon’s absorbing and prodigiously detailed Watergate: A Novel, the scandal takes on a Faustian dynamic and Stendahlian scope.” –AARP Magazine
“The work of a writer at the height of his powers, conferring truths about the past that transcend mere factual accuracy. I suspect it will take its place of one of the truly useful accounts of the event.” –History News Network
“Genuinely fascinating fiction.” –stltoday.com
“Absorbing…Mallon's elliptical approach to the narrative gives each step of the deepening crisis a coulda-woulda-shoulda vibe, with decisiveness replaced by regret at actions taken and not taken.” –jsonline.com
“A lively historical fiction read…Mallon does an excellent job of showing the reader how seemingly minor events—such as a secretary pressing “record” instead of “pause”—influenced American history and the office of the president.” –DallasNews.com
“This funny and factual novel is a refreshing new take on a dismal scandal.” –bookreporter.com
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Read an Excerpt
In her room inside the czar’s apartments, Pat Nixon, jet-lagged at 4:30 a.m., lay awake and looked toward a crack in the velvet curtains. The White Nights wouldn’t really come for another month, and Moscow wasn’t Leningrad, but the glow outside had nothing to do with dawn. It was the same strange silvery light that had persisted all night and been shining even when the state dinner ended at ten- thirty. The sky reminded her, oddly enough, of the ones she used to walk beneath in the Bronx on rainy autumn twilights back in the early thirties, looking south toward Manhattan. She’d leave the X- ray machine she’d tended all day and, with her coat pulled tight and never more than a dollar in her pocket, head down Johnson Avenue in search of dinner, often just a slice of apple pie and coffee. She could no longer remember the names of the nuns she’d lived with atop the TB hospital, but could still recall what she would think while walking on nights that looked like this one: Maybe I won’t try to get back to California; maybe I’ll seek my life right here.
She wondered whether Mrs. Khrushchev, now a widow, still lived in the dacha she and Dick had lunched at back in ’59. There was probably no more chance of her having been allowed to keep it than there had been of her being at the dinner tonight. When Pat had raised that second possibility with Kissinger, he’d pompously informed her that it was out of the question, and that she should be grateful for the political progress signified by Nikita Khrushchev’s having been merely retired instead of shot.
What a show Mrs. K had made, a dozen years ago, of not trying on the hat that Pat and the other ladies had presented her with at a luncheon in Washington, when the Khrushchevs returned the Nixons’ visit to Russia. She’d said she would accept the hat only so that back home it could be copied for the masses of Soviet women! Oh, put it on, dear, they’d all cajoled, and they eventually did succeed in raising a smile from her plump face. But, no, they never saw her try it on.
The Soviets had certainly never given up any of the swag in this room. Pat decided she might as well get up, put on the lights, and give it another look instead of just lying here staring at the curtains and gold- leaf ceiling. But on her way to the mosaic table, the one supporting the beautiful French clock, she stumbled over an extension cord left by Rita, her hairdresser, who’d fought a losing battle with the different voltage until two young men from Kissinger’s staff got the dryer going just before they were all due downstairs for the first toasts. Was Rita—across the courtyard in the block of rooms supposed to be full of ramshackle Communist-era furnishings— getting any more sleep than she was? Poor Bill Rogers wasn’t even inside the Kremlin; he’d been put in some hotel a few minutes away, no doubt from Kissinger’s continuing need to keep the secretary of state in his place and away from the real action.
It bothered her that Dick encouraged all that, especially if he did it not for some strategic reason but out of resentment left over from their six years in New York, when Bill and Adele would invite the Nixons out to “21” and give the impression—at least to Dick—that the Rogerses were doing them a favor. Pat herself had never seen it that way. She remembered those evenings, as well as the law firm’s partner dinners from that same all- too- brief time in her life, as being more agreeable than all the political entertainments in the years before and after.
Even Martha, for a while, had been fun.
How Rose Woods would love this room: all the figurines and bibelots, the kind of stuff she filled her little place at the Watergate with, those frilly knockoffs amidst the real little gems she got from Don Carnevale, her very safe escort from Harry Winston.
She heard voices coming from the courtyard below, bouncing up off the paving stones. Dear God, it was—Dick. She parted the curtains and saw him down there in a windbreaker and slacks, walking with Bill Duncan, their favorite Secret Service man, and she thought back to the mad night two years ago when he’d gone to the Lincoln Memorial, at about this hour, with almost nobody but Manolo and some aide of John Ehrlichman’s. To talk with the “demonstrators.” And a fat lot of credit he’d got for making the effort.
She thought of the people who’d come out to greet them this afternoon, trying to catch a glimpse of the limousine. You could scarcely see them, kept back as they were a block or more from the path of the car, but you could hear them, buzzing and cheering, interested in the whole
thing, hoping for something to come out of it— whereas back home the only crowds you could gather for politics were the angry, filthy kids and their teachers. Would those same protesters now grudgingly admit that the “warmonger” was really a peacemaker? No, of course not.
She could see Dick now, staying two steps ahead of Duncan, lost in thought until he’d turn around and say something, half from politeness and half from the need to hold forth. And then, after he spoke a couple of sentences, he’d break away and go it alone for another fifty feet, starting the cycle again. For all his need of an audience, he was happier alone. She remembered him just like this on their wedding day, June 21, 1940. She’d looked out the window of the Mission Inn and spotted him pacing the courtyard, a nervous groom, an hour before the ceremony. The birds had been singing in the branches as she stood there in her lace suit from Robinson’s department store and watched him without his knowing it. Money had been so much on both their minds: his mother had made the cake; his brother had picked her up and brought her to Riverside to save the cost of a hired car.
Next month, June, would be their anniversary. What would Rose be buying for him to give her? Once this trip was over and the two women had a quiet moment together, she’d have to start dropping hints. Dick had lately been making all this odd conversation about a “dynasty.” David would run for Congress from Pennsylvania; or maybe Julie would. And both Eds, his son- in- law and much younger brother, would find open seats in New York and Washington state. This fantasy was new, another one agitated into life by too much concentration on the Kennedys. She herself never inclined to the long view.
Julie had taken to asking when she would have her portrait for the White House painted. “When I can find the time” was her usual answer, easier than saying what she really thought: that sitting for it in the first term would be bad luck.
She could hear Dick’s voice growing fainter. Poor Bill Duncan would be relieved when his boss decided to go back to bed. Maybe she, too, was at last ready for sleep; if she got lucky, she would drift off for a couple of hours before breakfast.
She closed the curtains and undid the long belt of her wrapper, jumping in fright when her hand brushed, and nearly knocked over, a porcelain figure on the largest chest of drawers. No harm done, thank God. Everything, the whole world, really, was so fragile. Only yesterday
there had been that horrible newspaper picture of the man attacking the Pietà with a hammer.
She knew from long practice that she could, by sheer force of will, banish such an awful image from her mind. As she closed her eyes, she did just that.
Meet 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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An excellent fictional account of what it must have been like for those involved .
Thomas Mallon has accomplished the impossible as far as I'm concerned. He has taken an almost too-well-known story and provided a new perspective, blending fictional characters seamlessly with the facts. I think what most surprised me, aside from the considerable wit and literary talent this novel required, is that it can be enjoyed by someone of any political persuasion -- or have I just spent too many years inside the Beltway? -- catwak
Even though I knew the final outcome of the drama, the book still held my attention well. There is enough mystery to keep you involved in the unfolding story of Watergate in this novel. The author makes a lot of assumptions about how people were feeling and thinking in response to the scandal, and he works in some conspiracy theory with regard to Dorothy Hunt, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
I lived in Washington DC during the actual Watergate and have read many of the factual books so I was wondering what a novel would do with the explosive details. I found it grounded in facts; only the dialogs behind closed doors had to be invented. But the characters and the facts of their testimony gave the details a fierce truth.. It focused on some of the minor characters - Fred LaRue and possibly an invented liberal friend. I think anyone interested in this period of history would enjoy the read.
I got lost a few times with some of the names as to who did what...All in all, enjoyed it as it gave a good insight to some of the workings of the Govt...
Great book. I love reading about Watergate and all the players. Reading a novel about the time was just plain fun. Awesome!!!
Awesome novel about the oft-written scandal. Truly original and witty... a must- read for history fans. Mr. Mallon's next work will be greatly anticipated!!!
I have read a fair amount of non-fiction regarding this period of our political history and was looking forward to a novel on the same subject matter, On the whole, I think it added little to my understanding of Watergate. It was somewhat entertaining in parts, but overall it was barely average.
This was a fascinating look at the principals involved in the Watergate scandal. I bought the book just before leaving for trip to D.C. where my son lives across the street from the Watergate Hotel. I was able to walk around and sit in the courtyard, and view the building where it all started. This of course made the book much more fun to read. That being said, it was a very enjoyable read, even if I had not been in the vicinity. I had not realized how many of the principals involved actually lived in the Watergate Hotel. As a novel, Mallon was able to project the possible emotions all those involved were dealing with, giving them a human face as opposed to just a reporters take on the whole scandal.
Good for a general review of the Watergate story, but nothing special to add excitement to the story