Rehashing The Way It Was

Watergate, by Thomas Mallon



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If you were alive and reading the daily paper in 1972, you already know the gist of this story. If not, here it is, in brief:

President Richard Nixon was running for his second term, and a group of cronies, aides, former CIA spooks, and fellow-traveling politicos were involved in a burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate, a Washington complex of offices, shops, and apartments. What were they after? The story varies, but they were hoping for something to embarrass George McGovern, the Democratic candidate for president, possibly something aligning the Democrats with Castro’s Communist regime in Cuba.

The burglars were caught, and some of those on the firing line went to jail. Due to the efforts of the Washington Post’s intrepid reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, heads rolled upward until Nixon himself resigned from office.

What Mallon has done here is to fictionalize the personal lives of the ones closest to the Watergate drama, i.e., the burglars and others implicated. His accomplishment is in indicating how life for these people went on, more or less as usual, even as the scandal disrupted their lives, often permnently. The tone here goes something like this: “What’s the big deal? It was an escapade, a prank of the political sort, and now the Democrats are using it to ravage the Nixon Administration.”

Mallon’s story is witty at times (although not nearly as comedic as the press releases would have you believe). Nixon seems more resilient than the press portrayed him at the time; thus he becomes a slightly sympathetic character in Mallon’s hands. The women hovering about Nixon’s life during this time – his wife Pat, his secretary, Rose Woods, and Alice Longworth, an irascible scion of the Roosevelt family, seem to exert the strongest influence on the Watergate drama, but it’s the stereotypical ‘50s-‘60s sort of feminine influence.

Mallon’s challenge here – and the area in which he isn’t completely successful – is in finding the story’s characterizing center. At times Nixon sits at the center of Mallon’s storm, at other times, other of the participants. This is of course the way the story played out, but Mallon has written it in a journalistic form that left me asking, “Whose story was it, really?”

 Still, it’s an astute look at a pivotal moment on U.S. political history, and for that reason, it’s worth the read.


My rating: 15 of 20 stars





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