A Novelist Imagines a Life
Pat Nixon remains one of our most mysterious and intriguing public figures, the only modern First Lady who never wrote a memoir. Beattie, like many of her generation, dismissed Richard Nixon’s wife: “interchangeable with a Martian,” she said. Decades later, she wonders what it must have been like to be married to such a spectacularly ambitious and catastrophically self-destructive man.
Drawing on a wealth of sources from Life magazine to accounts by Nixon’s daughter and his doctor to The Haldeman Diaries and Jonathan Schell’s The Time of Illusion, Beattie reconstructs dozens of scenes in an attempt to see the world from Mrs. Nixon’s point of view. Like Stephen King’s On Writing, this fascinating and intimate account offers readers a rare glimpse into the imagination of a writer.
Beattie, whose fiction Vanity Fair calls “irony-laced reports from the front line of the baby boomers’ war with themselves,” packs insight and humor into her examination of the First Couple with whom boomers came of age. Mrs. Nixon is a startlingly compelling and revelatory work.
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The Lady in the Green Dress
In The Selling of the President 1968, Joe McGinniss has described a TV broadcast during which Mr. Nixon faced some hard questions about his stance on Vietnam. After the show ended, “Roger Ailes went looking for Nixon. He wound up in an elevator with Nixon’s wife. She was wearing a green dress and she did not smile. One thought of the remark a member of Nixon’s staff had made: ‘Next to her, RN looks like Mary Poppins.’
“‘Hello, Mrs. Nixon,’ Roger Ailes said.
“She nodded. She had known him for...see more
Stories as Preemptive Strikes
Mrs. Nixon (before she was Mrs. Nixon) had many nicknames, and one of them was Buddy. She liked the nickname because she felt her given name did not suit her. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would be thrilled to be named Thelma. Her mother insisted on naming her that for reasons unknown. The baby’s father—who maintained she had been born later than the time of her actual birth—called her his St. Patrick’s Babe in the Morn (soon shortened simply to Babe). As far as I can tell, she was born somewhere near midnight the day preceding St....see more
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