Thomas Mallon

novelist and critic

Selected Works

Fiction
"Mallon himself is deliciously witty. But it is his political fluency and unstinting empathy that transform the Watergate debacle into a universal tragicomedy of ludicrous errors and malignant crimes, epic hubris and sorrow." --Booklist (starred review)
"Some of the most lucid prose in contemporary American literature . . . [Mallon's] best book yet."
--Los Angeles Times
"Retro in style, modern in sensibility, compact, imaginative, and wildly entertaining."
--San Francisco Chronicle
Essays
“An astute, exhilarating tour of the mailbag . . . a charming, discursive delight. ‘Yours Ever’ is nuanced, informed, full-blooded, a vigorous literary salute."
--New York Times Book Review

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Watergate: A Novel

Published February 2012 by Pantheon (Random House)
In Watergate: A Novel, Thomas Mallon conveys the drama and high comedy of the Nixon presidency through the urgent perspectives of seven characters we only thought we knew before now, moving readers from the private cabins of Camp David to the klieg lights of the Senate Caucus Room, from the District of Columbia Jail to the Dupont Circle mansion of Theodore Roosevelt's sharp-tongued ninety-year-old daughter, and into the hive of the Watergate complex itself, home not only to the Democratic National Committee but also to the president's attorney general, his recklessly loyal secretary, and the shadowy man from Mississippi who pays out hush money to the burglars. Mallon achieves with Watergate a scope and historical intimacy that surpasses even what he attained in his previous novels, as he turns a "third-rate burglary" into a tumultuous, first-rate entertainment.

Reviews of WATERGATE have been extraordinary:


“In this stealth bull’s-eye of a political novel, Thomas Mallon invests the Watergate affair with all the glitter, glamour, suave grace and subtlety that it doesn’t often get. His cleverly counterintuitive ‘Watergate’ even has the name-dropping panache of a Hollywood tell-all . . . [a] fine, boisterous historical tableau . . . The book is laced together so seamlessly that it’s impossible to be sure where the reality leaves off and the fabricating begins.”
—The New York Times


“History, Mallon suggests, is not a clash of titans but just the magnified effects of ordinary people’s secret longings and fears. That’s nowhere more evident than in the novel’s discerning portrayal of Richard Nixon, who limps through these pages with his eyes fixed on the future. Baffled by the animus of his critics, pained to hurt anyone’s feelings, and haunted by the ghost of his dead brother, the president struggles to maintain his ‘madly dissociative smile’ while hoping that the transcripts of his genius eventually place him in the pantheon of American leaders. It’s a brilliant presentation, subtle and sympathetic, but spiked with satire that captures the man in all his crippling self-consciousness . . . Mallon writes with such wit and psychological acuity as he spins this carousel of characters caught in a scandal that’s constantly fracturing into new crises.”
—Washington Post Book World



“Mesmerizing …While clarifying the maze of connections among elected officials, political advisers, cronies and assorted power-mad or ideologically driven Nixonites, Mallon keeps the narrative moving at thriller-novel pace. Yet his writing always soars far above that genre's cliches…Like the best historical novelists, Mallon uses great public events as superstructure for classic themes of ambition and power, rivalry and envy, love lost and yearned for. In this sense, Watergate succeeds brilliantly. Like them or not, these tormented characters throb with life.”
–Newsday


“We’re propelled forward and kept highly entertained by the colorful characters, the delicious insider details, the intelligence of the dialogue…What Mallon captures particularly well is the fundamental weirdness and mystery at the center of the scandal…It appears that Mallon’s primary goal, one he achieves with great finesse, is to make the portrayals of his characters as believable as possible.”
–New York Times Book Review


“Watergate manages to combine extensive research with the tools of fiction to provide a new perspective on an iconic episode in American history. It is sufficiently faithful to the facts to offer a compelling introduction for those who missed this astounding story as it unfolded in the early 1970s, and a fresh view for those who haven't thought about it in years…Watergate is the sort of book that will ensnare you in its web of intrigue…Mallon manages to deftly capture the peculiar mix of unbridled ambition, bumbling ineptitude, hubris, cluelessness and dishonesty that sparked such an all-consuming crisis in American government.”
–NPR.org


“Fiction of a remarkably high order…Fiction, to be sure. But just as acceptable as any of the factual explanations history has left us with.”
–Washington Times


“Mallon, astute and nimble, continues his scintillating, morally inquisitive journey through crises great and absurd in American politics by taking on Watergate. Mixing judiciously selected facts about the infamous break-in and cover-up with shrewd invention, Mallon creates a whirling behind-the-scenes drama with a selective and intriguing cast . . . Mallon himself is deliciously witty. But it is his political fluency and unstinting empathy that transform the Watergate debacle into a universal tragicomedy of ludicrous errors and malignant crimes, epic hubris and sorrow.”
—Booklist (starred)


“Mallon writes with such swagger that it all seems new again . . . A sure winner.”
—Library Journal


“A bold, sweeping retelling of America’s most famous scandal by a gifted historical novelist . . . an epic, pure and simple, an ambitious novel about the perils of power told with unrelenting skill and prowess. Mallon’s big ideas, big names and big events are balanced out by well-crafted prose, pitch-perfect dialogue and gripping pacing . . . Watergate feels new and thrilling again in his hands, and that makes this a can’t-miss book for historical fiction fans.”
—BookPage


“Never less than entertaining. Watergate demonstrates how a novelist can peel back layers of personality and motivation that historians must leave undisturbed . . . a vivid and witty novel”
—Wall Street Journal


“The reward is getting to enter the heads of Watergate participants who were off to the side or never wrote memoirs . . . Mallon succeeds in making these people sympathetic, no small feat . . . .”
—Publishers Weekly


“The ruthless, paranoid, sometimes farcically inept architects of America’s biggest political scandal seem more colorfully real than ever in this fictional portrayal.”
—O: The Oprah Magazine


“A master of the historical novel turns Watergate into a dark comedy, rotating point of view among the supporting case, with Nixon as a sort of Malvolio—comical, pitiable, tragic.”
—Newsweek


“With great aplomb, historical novelist Thomas Mallon reimagines the operatic drama of Watergate…”
—Vanity Fair


“There’s so much to like. The dialogue is smart, the description ebullient, and the variegated narrative gives luster to a real-life American tragicomedy.”
—Washingtonian





"Get ready for the 40th anniversary Watergate retrospectives . . . And though it's only the second month of the anniversary year, it already can be said with some certainty that no Watergate retread will be as imaginative or as entertaining as 'Watergate: A Novel' . . . Mallon, a master of the genre ('Dewey Defeats Truman' and 'Henry and Clara') knows the dance between history and fiction . . . Full of telling, vivid detail . . . Mallon gets each of the characters with perfect pitch."
—The Boston Globe


"A pleasurably perverse and darkly comedic thriller . . . a beguilingly intricate structure."
—The Seattle Times


"An entertaining and surprisingly touching look at the 37th president's self-inflicted downfall… Watergate is finely polished. Gore Vidal and E. L. Doctorow were instrumental in resuscitating the historical novel genre in this country. Now that their best days are past, it is comforting to know that the patient is thriving in Dr. Mallon's capable hands."
—The Miami Herald


"Brashly entertaining . . . Though thoroughly based on fact, this is unrepentantly a work of fiction . . . [Mallon's] characters still have the ability to shock. He regards them with humor but also with compassion, as their plans and hopes are ruined by chance and unruly human emotions."
—The Columbus Dispatch


“Terrific . . . it takes a while to realize how rich and ambitious the book is. Mallon’s major achievement as he takes us from the eve of the break-in to Nixon’s resignation is to turn the scandal’s real-life players from yesteryear’s TV gargoyles into human beings . . . The time-machine details are unfailingly sharp.”
—The American Prospect


“Although Watergate isn’t genuine history, it makes for genuinely fascinating fiction.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch


“An absorbing history . . . a gripping read.”
—San Diego Union-Tribune


“Absorbing . . . Mallon takes you inside the inner circles of the Nixon White House and the Committee to Re-Elect the President (known soon after by the best acronym ever, CREEP) to explore what it’s like to be on a Titanic built not of steel and rivets but of people and their pasts, on the surface unsinkable but in fact vulnerable in unseen ways.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


“A blast from the bumbling past, a hymn to a bygone era in American politics . . . lively historical fiction . . . Mallon does an excellent job of showing the reader how seemingly minor events—such as a secretary pressing ‘record’ instead of ‘pause’—influenced American history and the office of the president. Nixon and his wife, Pat, are portrayed as human beings, not diabolical (or slapstick) caricatures.”
—Dallas Morning News


“An engaging novel enriched by a cast of curious people.”
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


“Clever, surprising . . . Imaginative fiction can tell a deeper truth than writing that sticks to demonstrable fact.”
—Slate


“Sitting in imperious judgment is Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s daughter, in her late eighties as the scandal transpires. At once the novel’s comic relief, voice of reason, and moral core, she has the clearest vision of anybody of the players . . . [Mallon is] a kindred spirit to Longworth, who famously owned a throw pillow reading, ‘If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.’ Have a seat; Mallon has a story about Richard Nixon he’d like to share with you.”
—The Barnes & Noble Review


“I was thrilled, captivated, deeply moved and wholly subsumed by the world that Tom Mallon created. Washington, D. C., from ’72 to ’74 circumscribes farce, tragedy, a reimagining of the political landscape and the reinstigation of grandeur into the fictional body politic. The book is fever dream, wolf whistle and history as plain and simple human longing; the book encapsulates no less than everything . . . Watergate is certainly a masterpiece. More importantly, it is a concurrently credible and fantastic subversion of all our perceived notions of a smugly overreported event and an underscrutinized time and place.”
—James Ellroy


“Mallon renders the era, the people and the place in vivid detail.”
—Los Angeles Times


“Historical fiction that unfolds with the urgency of a thriller . . . persuasively teases out the psychological drama of a story with a foregone conclusion.”
—The New Yorker


“Thomas Mallon’s Watergate is the fruit of canny artistic decisions that transform the crude fabric of bygone events into the stuff of fine—and fun—historical fiction . . . The author inhabits each of these characters with careful attention, deft humor and unstinting sympathy, mimicking habits of mind, foregrounding preoccupations and sketching in life stories as he moves the action forward.”
—Washington Independent Book Review


“It’s must-read for political junkies . . . That Mallon is able to infiltrate and illuminate such a gallery of characters—and make us care, four decades after the fact—is a credit to his research—and his reading of human nature.”
—San Antonio Express-News


“Mallon has made a kind of sense out of Watergate that historians have so far had trouble providing, perhaps because of a preoccupation with political loyalties or other agendas. He portrays the crisis as the product of volatile human personalities interacting in one of the strangest and most pressurized cities in the world.”
—SF (San Francisco) Weekly


“A study in subtly great storytelling”
—The Week


“This funny and factual novel is a refreshing new take on a dismal scandal.”
—Bookreporter


“Thomas Mallon has infused [Watergate’s] monumental archive with freshness and immediacy to portray the drama—and dark comedy—of President Nixon’s final years in office . . . a novel that deftly combines political scope with intimate characterization, is filled with humor . . . .”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune


“Remarkable . . . The novel’s true brilliance rests upon Mallon’s ability to weave Watergate’s oft-told events into a moral tapestry that feels wholly new. Every public thread seems to be tugged by a private hand.”
—The Globe and Mail


“In Thomas Mallon’s absorbing and prodigiously detailed Watergate: A Novel, the scandal takes on a Faustian dynamic and Stendhalian scope.”
—AARP: The Magazine


“The work of a writer at the height of his powers, conferring truths about the past that transcend mere factual accuracy.”
—History News Network



“Superbly entertaining fiction . . . the interaction between the characters—whether a conversation comes from the record or springs from Mallon’s fertile mind—illuminates the scandal’s inherent heartbreak.”
—Richmond Times-Dispatch



“A crackerjack of a novel.”
—(Utah) Daily Herald


Is turning Watergate into fiction gratuitous? Yes. Should you care? Absolutely not, not when the fiction is this good . . . Anyone convinced that the actual events of Watergate surpass any fiction an author could manufacture has not reckoned on the skill of Thomas Mallon.”
—The Daily Beast


“Once Maggie Smith finishes imperiously dictating everyone’s life at ‘Downton Abbey,’ there’s another acid-tongued arbiter of taste just waiting for her: Alice Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter. In Thomas Mallon’s densely intelligent new novel, Watergate, the octogenarian Longworth owns every scene she surveys . . . Presiding over the teeming mass of secrets is Nixon, whose ‘thin, ever-crawling skin’ and desperate craving for admiration Mallon gives an almost Shakespearean quality . . . The dialogue is top-notch, and Watergate should appeal to baby boomers for whom the crisis remains a turning point in the country’s move toward cynicism.”
—Christian Science Monitor


“Flawlessly written and occasionally quite poignant . . . Mallon seems to understand the 37th president as well as anyone who has ever written about him.”
—The Santa Fe New Mexican


“The women . . . steal the show in Thomas Mallon’s surprisingly entertaining and warm-hearted Watergate.”
—USA Today


“Wildly entertaining from beginning to end . . . audacious . . . a first-rate novelistic imagination”
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram


“The most poignant of Thomas Mallon’s eight novels . . . .”
—Louisville Courier-Journal


“A fresh look at Nixon’s downfall and well worth reading.”
—The Forum (Fargo, N. D.)


“Mallon writes like a dream, and his mastery of the complex historical record and the equally Byzantine folkways of Washington’s establishment class are staggering ... a literary achievement ....”
—The Millions


“Watergate, one of the best novels of the year, is entertaining, profound—and tragic.”
—The Charlotte Observer


“Fascinating . . . Mallon has a subtle wit, and this imposition of his political novel over the historic record . . . is a daring gambit.”
—National Review