What Happened In 'Watergate': An Alternate Take Thomas Mallon's new novelization of the infamous political scandal re-imagines the events through the eyes of the perpetrators. Critic Heller McAlpin says Mallon manages to capture both the metastasizing dishonesty and the ludicrousness of this great American tragedy of political ambition run amok.


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What Happened In 'Watergate': An Alternate Take

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. Now, a low point in American politics explored through fiction. This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. The scandal, and the fall of President Nixon, have inspired countless journalists and historians to piece together what happened. Now, author Thomas Mallon adds his perspective with a new novel that brings the scandal back to life. Heller McAlpin has our review.

HELLER MCALPIN, BYLINE: What was the Watergate scandal really about? Forty years later, Thomas Mallon revisits the inanity, and the dishonesty. In his latest novel, he tells the story from the perspective of the perps and their supporters. The result is a great American tragedy of political ambition run amok. Why dredge it all up again? A president proclaiming "I'm not a crook," the rich cast of characters - it's like coffee, to a novelist. As in his previous historical novels, Mallon writes about what actually happened, with some notable additions.

Pat Nixon, for one, gets a made-up lover as part of a secret past. Mallon explained in a New Yorker article, "I simply couldn't resist giving Mrs. Nixon a larger share of happiness than life did." Watergate concentrates on the minor players, but most of the gang - Hunt, Haldeman, Mitchell, Magruder and Nixon himself - are all present and accounted for. Fred LaRue, a largely forgotten campaign official and hush money courier, cops a beefed up role. This includes a sexy former girlfriend who holds the answer to his troubling backstory in her desk drawer at McGovern headquarters.

Unshackled from the historian's burden of proof, Mallon transforms this sordid crisis in American government. But be forewarned: Watergate may rouse your inner fact-checker. The book sent me to the Internet again and again: Who served how long in which prison? Who died when? And what did Nixon's resignation speech actually sound like? As for the scandal itself, Mallon's sympathetic, sad Pat Nixon sums it all up with her reflection: Watergate was enormous, colossal, and it was nothing.

BLOCK: That's book critic Heller McAlpin reviewing the novel "Watergate" by Thomas Mallon.

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