Review

Watergate

by Thomas Mallon

This funny and factual novel is a refreshing new take on a dismal scandal. It begins with a burglary on May 22, 1972 at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex on the Potomac River. It ends on August 8, 1974 when Richard Nixon tearfully resigns the presidency of the United States in the White House, only blocks from where it all started.

Laced with irrefutable facts in the Watergate scandal are choice tidbits of a personal nature, which is what makes historical fiction at once informative and entertaining. Thomas Mallon has portrayed the scandal in the rear-view mirror of history by telling it from the point of view of a few key players from the cast of hundreds closest to the disaster.

"This funny and factual novel is a refreshing new take on a dismal scandal."

Fred LaRue and his canny wife, Dorothy, both former CIA operatives, served as the money handlers to pay for legal and living fees of the five burglars. Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s faithful career-long personal secretary, who went down in history as the person who erased 18 1/2 minutes of the infamous White House tapes, helps bring personal insight into what was going on inside the White House and Camp David during the ill-fated second term.  Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the acid-tongued octogenarian daughter of former President Teddy Roosevelt provides a one-woman Greek chorus of humorous asides. Mrs. L, as she was known, knew where everybody was buried among the powerful players in both parties from her father’s term through the present. She had an embroidered pillow on the settee in her drawing room that famously stated: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here with me.” As more breaking news bulletins emerged, she once handed a napkin to her lunch companion, columnist Joe Alsop, on which she had scribbled “The clock is dick-dick-dicking away.”

Most remember Watergate as a dark passage through tumultuous times that brought down a sitting president and his cabinet. After the upheavals of the 1960s, President Richard M. Nixon had served one successful term, bringing the United States to the brink of detente with Russia and China, and a peaceful resolution in the Middle East was within sight as his re-election campaign rolled into its last months. He was expected to coast into re-election, leaving his Democratic opponent, George McGovern, in the dust.

However, the Committee to Re-Elect the President was prepared to do whatever it took to truly whip the left-leaning McGovern on Election Day 1972. The Republicans wanted to make certain that McGovern would not gain the White House or drag any of his pacifist followers into Congress.

It was not the crime but the cover-up that led to White House aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Dean to become household names. The more they denied it, the larger the incident grew, and soon the biggest scandal in recent Washington history burst upon the scene. When it turned into a nightmare of bribes and lies, it led to Congressional impeachment proceedings brought against President Richard Milhous Nixon, his eventual resignation, and jail for all the conspirators.

President Nixon, scorned by most at the abrupt end of his presidency, comes off as brilliant and secretive, cold and morose, canny yet gullible, a formidable negotiator, and, in the end, a pathetic character who might have gone down in history as one of the better presidents, if not a great one. Instead, he shuffled off into near obscurity, outliving his wife, Pat, who loyally stuck by him despite a surprising opportunity to get out from under his gloomy shadow.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on February 27, 2012

Watergate
by Thomas Mallon

  • Publication Date: February 21, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 0307378721
  • ISBN-13: 9780307378729