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Book Review: 'Watergate: A Novel'

Thomas Mallon's latest historical novel reimagines players in the famous scandal

By far the most acerbic and irrepressible of the lot is Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the oldest daughter of T.R., who describes herself as a “topless octogenarian” in the wake of a double mastectomy. Having borne witness to what was arguably more egregious presidential behavior than Tricky Dick’s, the D.C. doyenne brings historical perspective to the yarn. After a political columnist cites a forged letter from the presidential campaign of 1888, for example, she snaps, “Whom do you think you’re writing for? Me?”

In fiction as in fact, at the center of it all is Richard Milhous Nixon, who comes off as a figure of infinite contradictions and endless fascination. The same guile, determination and naked ambition that sustained him through his post-Checkers years in the political wilderness (narrowly losing the race for president in 1960; broadly losing the race for governor of California in 1962) won him the White House in 1968 and 1972. Those also happen to be the very qualities that engineered his downfall. Though not portrayed sympathetically by any means, Nixon is still very human here.

No one entirely escapes Mallon’s scorn in his withering commentary on an administration that frittered away an electoral landslide through paranoia, ineptitude and bad luck. Hearteningly, his approach to ridicule is decidedly democratic.

You may also like: How the Kennedy-Nixon debates changed politics. >>

Former Sports Illustrated staff writer Franz Lidz is the author of Unstrung Heroes, Ghosty Men and Fairway to Hell.

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