In Watergate, A Novel Thomas Mellon uses unusual characters to tell his story of the scandal, which allows readers to see how the events following the break-in impact the people surrounding Richard Nixon. Even more unusual is Mallon’s development of his women characters, because generally historical accounts of Watergate, or really any other event, pay very little attention to the women involved, if any.
One of the interesting things Mallon does is dig deeper into the life of Pat Nixon beyond just her role as the First Lady. I think that for the most part, with some exceptions, First Ladies are forgotten to history and American citizens overlook the difficulty of being in their position. As we see with Pat, she is not happy with Richard, which leads to her affair with Tom Garahan. However she only has a few minutes each day in which she can allow herself to be with him and release her inner desire while the rest of the time she has a duty to be at her husband’s side. The view into her life reveals just how straining it is to live in the White House as President and First Lady, especially in times of controversy. Away from the spotlight they are both human, and therefore risk falling prey to human weakness, especially in tough times. Even though the affair is fictional, it causes readers to look at Pat Nixon as more than just Richard’s wife, but as an individual with her own responsibilities and secrets.
In addition to Pat we also meet Rose Mary Woods, the deeply devoted personal secretary to President Nixon. History remembers her as the woman who accidently erased 18 and-a-half minutes of tape, which looked highly suspicious to the media and Nixon’s opposition. She is highly protective of the President, so it is generally assumed that she purposefully deleted a particularly exposing part of the tape in order to destroy the evidence. However, in Watergate, she deletes the tape because Nixon fails to defend her when talking to Haldeman, who claimed “I never wanted to solder myself to you like Rose.” (Mallon 283). Again, the novel’s version of what the tapes contained is not factual, but rather introduced to push the plot forward. However, I think it is important that Mallon chose to give Rose a personal motivation to delete the conversation because it introduces the importance of personality into the scandal. This book overall works to show its readers how not all actions are politically motivated, but rather that people of power are subject to emotions just as the rest of us are.
Overall I found that Mallon put effort into highlighting the importance of women such as Pat, Rose, and Alice, which I found to be very interesting. For the most part, the players who come to mind when remembering Watergate are Richard Nixon, his advisors, and the burglars themselves, all men. But as we see in the novel there are many moving parts that contribute to the scandal and the cover-ups, and the women play just as important a role as the men.
– Cole Robert