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Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years


Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years

In the opening scenes of FINALE, Ronald Reagan seems destined to be relegated to history as an also-ran, a failed candidate for President of the United States. It is 1976, the Republican Party meeting in Kansas City has selected Gerald Ford as its nominee, and Reagan has gone to the convention to graciously accept defeat. With history as their guide, readers know that Reagan will be nominated for President in 1980, sweep to two electoral victories, and become an iconic figure in Republican and national politics. Using actual historical figures and real events as a foundation, FINALE is Thomas Mallon’s panoramic novel of American politics.

Mallon’s formula of historical fiction populated almost entirely by real-life personalities is now standard fare for the author. His novels have focused on American history --- from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to the Watergate scandal, with intermittent stops at the Presidential election of 1948 and the Kennedy assassination. Mallon blends real-life characters with a large amount of imagination and what-might-have-been to create entertaining fiction. Readers will find themselves turning to historical accounts of the Reagan years in an effort to separate Mallon’s conjecture from actual events.

"Regardless of motive, Mallon has created a thoughtful and provocative novel that political junkies will enjoy. In American politics, entertainment often trumps policy; FINALE is highly entertaining."

The cast of characters presented in FINALE runs four pages and includes Shirley Temple Black, Michael Deaver, Bob Dole, Donald Regan, Margaret Thatcher, Richard Nixon, and countless other political and non-political figures. One interesting character in the novel is the political writer and bomb-thrower Christopher Hitchens. The late author was a friend of Mallon’s and a bitter critic of Reagan. The Hitchens character offers interesting insights into many political figures, and readers will enjoy his acerbic observations of the political scene.

Much of the book is observed through the mind of First Lady Nancy Reagan. History teaches us that Ms. Reagan had a major influence over her husband --- some good, some bad. Throughout the novel, she worries about another assassination attempt on him, the overbearing White House staff, and the tensions created from dealing with their grown children. She often turns to her Hollywood friends, particularly entertainment impresario Merv Griffin, for guidance and solace.

The events of the Reagan years are all presented in these pages. Readers will recall the political revolution that was the Reagan presidency: the arms-control negotiations with the Soviet Union, Iran-Contra, the AIDS epidemic, and a myriad of other historical events occurring during the last decades of the 20th century.

While many well-known figures are portrayed here, Ronald Reagan himself remains an enigma in FINALE. Perhaps that is appropriate because actual historians also have been unable to solve the mystery that was Ronald Reagan. Even in 2015, as presidential candidates invoke his name and seek to somehow claim that they are the heirs to the Reagan legacy, there is substantial debate over what exactly that legacy entails. Maybe Mallon understood that debate when he set out to write the fictional history of Reagan’s contributions to our nation.

Regardless of motive, Mallon has created a thoughtful and provocative novel that political junkies will enjoy. In American politics, entertainment often trumps policy; FINALE is highly entertaining.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on September 18, 2015

Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years
by Thomas Mallon

  • Publication Date: August 9, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1101872551
  • ISBN-13: 9781101872550