Mark Athitakis reviews Thomas Mallon's novel Watergate. A complete retelling of the scandal would have made a great novel if non-fiction hadn't already trod the ground flat and featureless. Mallon has to strip out much of the action–the break in, the WaPo scenes, the parking garage meetings with Deep Throat. Instead, Mallon plunges into the interior lives of the people swept up in the scandal, including the wives. Mallon even conjures up a flirty Pat Nixon.
Nixon possessed operatic levels of misanthropy and paranoia, and his ambition was abetted by sociopaths in the White House. However, according to Athitakis Mallon finds more prosaic motives at the heart of Watergate: back office anxieties and Georgetown rivalries–both of which still exist in abundant quantities in Washington. However, what makes Watergate so unique in scope and mendacity is that it took place in a Washtington much quieter than today's. Washington scandals still take place, of course, but they're accompanied by so much noise that it's hard to judge them calmly.