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Book Review: Watergate

Thomas Mallon offers a series of diverting, occasionally out-there character sketches that chart the debacle’s toll on the bit players.

If you were to become a DC heavyweight whose life merited a novelist’s attention, you’d be lucky to have Thomas Mallon pick you for a muse. Unlike Gore Vidal, whose Washington historical novels have a crotchety polemical undertone, Mallon is an equitable storyteller who likes the Beltway, understands the city’s currency, and generally refuses to disparage the denizens in charge. In other words, those expecting to see Richard Nixon burned in effigy in Mallon’s novel Watergate will be disappointed, as will those hoping for a stringent recreation of the eponymous burglary. What Mallon offers is a series of diverting, occasionally out-there character sketches that chart the debacle’s toll on the bit players, among them Fred LaRue—a hard-drinking aide to President Nixon who’s haunted by the memory of a hunting accident that took his father’s life—and Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary who may have been responsible for the infamous elisions in the White House tapes.

Watergate seems to beg for a big climax that never comes, yet there’s so much to like. The dialogue is smart, the description ebullient, and the variegated narrative gives luster to a real-life American tragicomedy.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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