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Imagining Watergate

Courtesy William Bodenschatz

“It was one of the few topics where I found myself wishing there was less material,” Mallon said.

Mallon insists that readers shouldn’t view his novel as history, even though he does stick to the official timeline.

“Historical fiction is fiction,” he said. “My primary responsibility is to be a novelist, to entertain, to write well. ... My responsibilities to history are secondary.”

But, he concedes, novels “can provide a way of thinking about history.”


Politics Shaping Fiction

The novel re-creates the spectacle that captivated the nation almost 40 years ago.

“If you think about it in terms of the other news stories that people had lived through — war, riot, assassination — nobody got killed in Watergate. It’s almost as if you had a license to enjoy it,” Mallon said.

But it isn’t just political history that interests Mallon. The novelist also has quite a bit to say about present-day politics.

“I think my friends would consider me a conservative Republican,” he said, even though he insists that he has more of a moderate/libertarian streak.

Mallon is open about discussing his political views. He said he admires the late Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) and supports a “relatively unregulated” economy and “strong interventionist” foreign policy. But he strongly opposes conservative stands on social issues and some of the religious-tinged rhetoric favored by many on the right today. “It leaves me completely cold,” he said.

It’s a relevant point for understanding Mallon’s literary career. A quick look at his bibliography shows that politics have, in part, shaped his fiction.

Many of his novels imagine key historical moments in the Republican Party, dating all the way back to the mid-19th century. “Henry and Clara” (1994) depicts the evening of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. “Two Moons” (2000) takes place during President Rutherford B. Hayes’ administration. “Fellow Travelers” (2007) is set during the era of McCarthyism. And then, of course, there’s his newest book about Nixon.

“I do think Republicans seem to call for me for fictional subjects,” he said. “I seem to have had lots of Republican subject matter.”

And he has more in the works. He has begun working on a novel about President Ronald Reagan.

“The availability of stories in history appeals to me much more than trying to write tales about what I saw with my own eyes,” he said.

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