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  • Watergate
  • Written by Thomas Mallon
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  • Watergate
  • Written by Thomas Mallon
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A Novel

Written by Thomas MallonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Thomas Mallon

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List Price: $12.99

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On Sale: February 21, 2012
Pages: 448 | ISBN: 978-0-307-90708-0
Published by : Vintage Knopf
Watergate Cover

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Synopsis

A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post Notable Book
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of 2012
A 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Finalist

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 reconstruct 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. Mallon achieves with Watergate a scope and historical intimacy that surpasses even what he attained in his previous novels, and turns a “third-rate burglary” into a tumultuous, first-rate entertainment.

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.
Thomas Mallon

About Thomas Mallon

Thomas Mallon - Watergate

Photo © William Bodenschatz

Thomas Mallon is the author of eight novels, including Watergate, 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.
Praise

Praise

“A master of the historical novel turns Watergate into a dark comedy . . . with Nixon as a sort of Malvolio—comical, pitiable, tragic.”
Newsweek

“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 
 
“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.”
—The Washington Post
 
“Historical fiction that unfolds with the urgency of a thriller . . . Mallon persuasively teases out the psychological drama of a story with a foregone conclusion.”
The New Yorker
 
“Wildly entertaining from beginning to end . . . audacious . . . a first-rate novelistic imagination.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“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 F. Will, The Washington Post

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

“Mesmerizing . . . [Mallon’s] writing always soars far above that genre’s clichés. . . 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.”
The Washington 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

“A clever comic novel. . . Imaginative fiction can tell a deeper truth than writing that sticks to demonstrable fact.”
Slate

“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.”
—The 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.”
—The New York Times

“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


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
“Entertaining and warm-hearted.”
USA Today

“Remarkable . . . the novel’s true brilliance rests upon Mallon’s ability to weave Watergate’s oft-told events into a moral tragedy that feels wholly new. Every public thread seems to be tugged by a private hand.”
The Globe and Mail

“A pleasurably perverse and darkly comedic thriller . . . a beguilingly intricate structure.”
The Seattle Times

“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.”
The 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

“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

“It already can be said with some certainty that no Watergate retread will be as imaginative or as entertaining as Watergate. . . . Full of telling, vivid detail . . . Mallon gets each of the characters with perfect pitch.”
The Boston Globe

Watergate, one of the best novels of the year, is entertaining, profound—and tragic.”
The Charlotte Observer


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