Watergate ~ Thomas Mallon

I grew up at a time that Watergate was a huge deal. By the time the deal broke, I had already been to and come back from Vietnam. I was none too happy with Mr. Nixon, or any of his cohorts for that matter. As a result, like many people, I was glued to the hearings, and came to know that cast of characters well. Then the resignation came, and it was one of those seminal events: where were you when? I was visiting friends in Chicago when the Dickster flashed his final “V” sign.

So when this historical fiction was published recently, I figured it might be fun to read. There are a moderately large cast of characters, but I knew that wouldn’t present any problems: I was already very familiar with most of them. And, they’re all in the front of the book for those of you who are new to the scandal. I usually like my historical fictions to stay fairly close to the record, with a minimum of straying. Sure, one needs to imagine conversations that might not be on the historical record, but over speculation on the unfolding events should be kept in check. The following two events were puzzling to me, and raised a red flag, since I had never heard of these things before. It’s certainly not inconceivable that these things happened, more or less as Mallom writes of them, but my skepticism was fairly high on these:

First, we are to believe that Patricia Nixon had an affair (although chaste). Could this possibly be true? If so, it would certainly put a hole in the myth of their love for each other. I found it interesting though, that some early love letters (from Nixon ) were just released yesterday. Is that a counter offensive? Whatever the facts, this has nothing much to do with Watergate itself, but it does serve to flesh out the enigmatic Patricia Nixon.

The second event was the death of Howard Hunt’s wife Dorothy, killed in a plane crash of suspicious origin. At least according to Mallom’s inferences. I checked, and it is true that Hunt’s wife did die in this plane crash. It’s just so odd that I don’t remember anything about this, recalling as I do most of everything else surrounding the Watergate affair. Conspiracy theories tend to not stop at one milepost, but go on to other things to tie “it” all together. Speculation (not in the book) has Nixon, Hunt, et. al. involved as well in the assassination of JFK.

My overall sense of Mallon’s thesis is that he is attempting some rehabilitation of Nixon here. He’s pretty light on him in my opinion, giving him perhaps unwarranted credit for his ‘genius’ at foreign policy. Ultimately, I let all that stuff go, and attempted to enjoy what I could from the book.

WATERGATE PLAYERS THAT ARE ABOUT AS I REMEMBER THEM:

Spiro T. Agnew, Carl Albert, Ben Bradlee, Edward Brooke, Charles Colson, Archibald Cox, Tricia Nixon, John Dean, Julie Nixon, John Erlichman, Sam Irvin, Betty and Gerald Ford, H.R. Haldeman, Henry Kissinger, G. Gordon Liddy, Martha Mitchell, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, James St. Clair, John Sirica, Tony Ulasewicz

THEY MAKE ME GO TO REHAB:

Patrick Buchanan, William F. Buckley, John Connally, Alexander Haig, John Mitchell, Richard Nixon

BLOOD ON THE HATCHET

Edward Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, George McGovern, Jeb Magruder, Elliot Richardson

NEW AND/OR MORE INTERESTING

Dorothy and Howard Hunt, Fred LaRue, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Pat Nixon, Rose Mary Woods

I scan down this list and I get a sense of the authors political bias – and mine to be fair. William F. Buckley comes across as having a heart of gold. He’d give you the shirt off his back. Really? Who knew Haig had such a sense of humor and was an all around good guy? Who kn ew (they’re still rewriting this history) that Nixon was a foreign policy genius (although Repugs have been beating this drum forever)?. That John Mitchell was such a stand-up guy, brought low only for the love of his wife?

Note that the entire Kennedy clan comes in for it, as well as George McGovern and that Mitt Romney of yore Eliott Richardson. Jeb Magruder comes in for great scorn from the Republican side, set up as the real fall guy.

Which brings us to the characters that I knew (with the exception of Dorothy Hunt) of which the most fascinating and unusual, really a great character: Alice Roosevelt Longworth. She’s almost the comic relief here. She’s canny, and wise and seems to have all-access, all the time. The Hunt’s seem to have played a most significant role in the cover up (bag man and bag lady). Liddy is essentially a minor player here, and I’m not sure why. Maybe Mallon was afraid of getting whacked. Fred LaRue seems to have been positioned as the guy who really put the Southern Democrats in play for the Republicans, a political maneuver that still has obvious ramifications to this day. Pat Nixon was a loyal and fierce protector of her husband, yet she seemed to have carried a torch for one “Tom Garahan”. This is the only name in the cast of characters that is in quotation marks, which would seem to indicate that he is a wholly fictional character. Even more fiercely loyal than Nixon’s wife is Rose Mary Woods. She of the “18-minute gap” (which Mallon covers interestingly, but probably in a wholly fictionalized way). Woods (to her credit) hated H. R. Haldeman) and really liked (to her detriment) Alexander Haig. Woods is maybe the most honest and fully realized character in the novel – though as I said, my absolute favorite was Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

There are some narrative ploys that really stretch credibility – the worst being the whole affair nearly laid at the doorstep of a mis-heard word: Larry (O’Brien) for Larrie (LaRue’s nickname for the love of his life), all related to a red herring envelope that it’s hard to believe plays such an important role in LaRue’s psyche.

If you can over look a lot of this stuff you’ll be entertained enough to have made it worthwhile. With emphasis on overlooking stuff!

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