By Chet Yarbrough
By Thomas Mallon
Narrated by Joe Barrett
This novel about “Watergate” will offend
and entertain. It will offend those who believe Nixon was a great political leader. It will entertain those who believe Nixon was simply a man with strengths and weaknesses, overblown by great power. Mallon cleverly weaves a story of the Watergate break-in that magnifies its stupidity by revealing known facts and improbable speculations.
The two most memorable characters of the novel are the least well-known, Frederick LaRue and Alice Longworth.
Frederick LaRue is the bag-man that carries cash to Watergate burglars to keep them quiet. As a counter-point to Nixon’s Watergate culpability, Mellon suggests that LaRue goes to his grave believing he murdered his father on a drunken hunting trip. One wonders what Watergate perspective Nixon takes to the grave
Alice Longworth, the oldest daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, is a “gadfly” and self-professed octogenarian hedonist that offers comic relief to a tragic story. Nixon is alleged to have said that Alice Longworth is “the most interesting conversationalist of the age.” Mallon reinforces that belief in comments he assigns to the colorful Ms. Longworth. LaRue and Longworth are cinematic enhancements to Watergate’s black and white story.
Mallon offers interesting portraits of lesser characters, like E. Howard Hunt’s wife, Dorothy. (E. Howard Hunt is the ex-CIA operative that is in charge of the Watergate burglary.) She is described as a tough lady; deeply loved by her husband. Mallon’s picture of Dorothy Hunt’s dogged pursuit of hush money and her mysterious death in a plane crash revives speculation about Watergate conspiracy theories.
A portrait of Elliot Richardson suggests a man of great ambition that uses his patrician, Bostonian mien, and various government appointments, in a Machiavellian pursuit of the presidency. Richardson fails in his pursuit and one wonders how much of his failure is from hubris, a quality quite evident in Nixon’s handling of Watergate.
Martha Mitchell is shown as an alcoholic party-going tippler that voraciously and publicly defends her husband, John Mitchell.
Martha Mitchell suggests her husband was abandoned Nixon when he allowed others to accuse Mitchell of directing the Watergate break-in. Martha loves John and John loves Martha; she says what Mitchell thinks but refuses to say.
Jeb Magruder appears as a people-pleaser that charms LaRue, lies to government investigators, and recants his testimony. Magruder points an accusative finger at Mitchell and goes to prison to write a book about his trail of destruction.
LaRue has an apocryphal meeting with Magruder in prison that suggests Watergate was a misunderstood adventure that morphed out of control.
No surprises about Nixon’s secretary, Rosemary Woods. She is shown as a loyal follower of the Nixon family and defender of Nixon’s memory. Mallon suggests Woods’ 18 minute Nixon’ tape-gap is not to cover up Presidential complicity in Watergate but to assuage a recorded personal slight of Ms. Woods by H.R. Haldeman.
Alexander Haig appears as a cheerleader in the darkest times of the scandal; i.e. a person that sees silver linings in every dark omen. He cheer-leads through the subpoenaed tapes and a pending impeachment.
Aside from a fictional side story of an extramarital affair for Mrs. Nixon, Mallon gives his audience an entertaining story. He successfully reveals how momentous the Watergate’ cover-up became.
Nixon did not lose the Presidency from the petty Watergate’ burglary; he lost it from the cover-up. Just as LaRue is not found guilty of murdering his father, Nixon is not convicted for a petty crime. However, both are punished for the remainder of their lives. As Forest Gump said, “stupid is as stupid does”.