Merry Christmas! Let’s talk about the Nixons…

Mrs. Nixon by Ann Beattie

If you like your books to be all one thing, cut and dried (perfectly fictional, or perfectly nonfictional), then this book will drive you straight up the wall.
For the rest of us, who maybe are intrigued by the occasional mash-up: Splendor!
(Though. If I owned a copy of this book, I’d have to put it in nonfiction for 6 months of the year, and then move it to fiction for the remaining 6 months. There’s a small element of literary/shelving stress here.)
Beattie does some zany stuff in this book, including writing an entire chapter in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s style, about two characters who haven’t appeared before in the Nixon narrative. The man is writing a love letter to the woman. Turns out, we learn at the end of the chapter that the text of the love letter was the actual text of a letter Richard Nixon wrote to Pat. The rest of it is all made up, characters and all.
This book is interesting, guys.
You turn the page, and you don’t know if you’re going to get a literary interpretation of the short story “The Necklace” or social commentary in Pat Nixon’s voice or the author’s musings on why she felt drawn to write about Pat Nixon of all people. (She even writes a false version of events to explain why she chose this subject. Then confesses immediately that the previous chapter was A Lie.)
And it all ties together.
There were several moments while reading this book that I gave thanks to my 18-year-old self, who knew that majoring in English would have been a bad idea for me. There was just enough literary analysis in this book to remind me that I just don’t like doing that stuff. (Hello, readers! You ain’t gonna find nothing deep on this here book blog.)
Anyway. Pat Nixon. She’s one of those so-placid-she’s-nearly-invisible political wives. So that’s actually pretty intriguing, because you know she was having secret thoughts inside that perfectly-coiffed head of hers. So why not have a
novelist imagine what those thoughts were? And also, she was married to Richard Nixon! So there’s some built-in tragedy there.
I’ll say it again: This book is interesting.
Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for the ARC.

2 thoughts on “Merry Christmas! Let’s talk about the Nixons…

  1. Oh, my God, yes! Cool! Ann Beattie? I haven't thought about her in years.

    My parents and grandparents hated Nixon, but what really put the capper on my mother and grandmother's dislike of the man is when he made a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry and Pat came out on stage and walked up to embrace him and he held her off by turning away or stiff-arming her or some kind of repulse. They didn't suddenly start loving Pat, but they spoke of her with sympathetic tones in their voices ever after.

  2. Your Grand Old Opry story is *cracking me up*! Nixon was such a strange man.

    I'd never read Ann Beattie before. I think it had to be the right book, and for me, this one was.

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