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September 18, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: ‘Watergate’ by Thomas Mallon

 Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: Watergate by Thomas Mallon

Drink in this rich fictional history of Watergate. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

“Watergate,” a novel by Thomas Mallon, is a hoot, a fictional interpretation of the political saga that ended the presidency of Richard M. Nixon and irrevocably altered the lives of those around him, not to mention the American political system.

Mallon, who can see the infamous office and residential complex easily from his perch as director of the George Washington University creative writing program in Foggy Bottom, has a boatload of honors and credits to his career as a novelist, essayist and academic. In “Watergate,” though, he takes it all to another level in giving voice to everyone from Nixon to first lady Pat to break-in perps E. Howard Hunt, Committee to Re-Elect the President chiefs John Mitchell and Fred LaRue to forgotten ghosts of Washington’s past like Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

Witness Pat Nixon desperately avoiding a drunk Martha Mitchell at a Hollywood fundraiser, or the president groaning in his sleep in Moscow, freaking out the eavesdropping KGB agents, or Hunt’s aggrieved anxiety in the aftermath of a botched black bag job he wanted no part of but nevertheless went through with anyway.

It’s those individuals, and Mallon’s ability to make us empathize with each and every one of them, that gives this novel a unique place in the canon of Watergate history. With the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s Aug. 9 resignation almost upon us, this is a critically acclaimed book worth adding to the reading list.

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