Watergate: A Novel

By Thomas Mallon

(Pantheon, $26.95, 448 pages) 

Who is this author?

Thomas Mallon, who has contributed to such powerhouse publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly, knows his way around fiction and nonfiction…and politics. He has eight novels to his credit, among them “Dewey Defeats Truman,” and “Henry and Clara,” and eight nonfiction books as well.

A graduate of Brown and Harvard universities, and a former literary editor for GQ, he lives in Washington, ground zero for his latest novel.

What is this book about?

If you are finding the current Republican presidential nomination race to have too close a resemblance to a car full of circus clowns, Thomas Mallon would like to remind you of a previous political gang that couldn’t shoot straight: the hapless perpetrators of the infamous Watergate break-in, a bunch of fools who took chances, took a fall and took President Richard M. Nixon down with them.

In “Watergate,” Mallon takes a novelist’s approach to this classic “you can’t make this stuff up” event, and by all accounts his doing so has resulted in a terrific read that illuminates the psychological and political roots of the imbroglio in ways that no mere non-fiction account could do.

Mallon puts himself inside the feverish heads of the Watergate burglars, that inept quintet who broke into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in July 1972 and eventually broke into the headlines as well. For a nation already shaken by the unpopular Vietnam War, the unfolding involvement of all the President’s men and Nixon himself in the Watergate break-in created profound doubts about the fairness of our politics, doubts that still fester today.

Many readers may think that, having lived through the Watergate events, they know all there is to know about it. Mallon’s clever and penetrating version of it, augmented by using the novelistic form, further illuminates the story in a most engrossing and perversely entertaining fashion. 

Why you’ll like it:

Mallon immersed himself in the Watergate history, and that research solidly underpins his fictional treatment of what went on, and why. Though the subject is serious, he has written a great comic novel here.

The characters, high and low, who were involved in it were colorful enough in real life, but he makes those colors brighter and more fascinating. The book is being praised for its wit and wisdom about what happened, and Mallon brings the perspective of a cultural and political historian to his brilliant re-telling of America’s worst political scandal…that is, so far.

Even the very conservative Washington Times has this to say about the book:

“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.”

What others are saying:

“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, Indystar.com

“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,”  says NPR.org.

Says Newsday: “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.”

“A clever comic novel…Imaginative fiction can tell a deeper truth than writing that sticks to demonstrable fact,” says 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,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

“Watergate” is on the shelves at the Mark Twain and Ropkins branches of the Hartford Public Library and can be requested for pickup at the Downtown branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.