Thomas Mallon reminds us of a strange time in the distant past, when a leader who became famous by being on camera led a populist counter-revolution against the Liberals with a message of a strong America and an alliance with the religious Right. The Liberals could never figure out if he was an empty suit in heavy make-up, or a political genius playing 5-dimensional chess. Generally, they assumed the former was true.
Interestingly, Mallon himself seems to acknowledge the unknowability of Ronald Reagan’s mind.
Mallon’s confidently portrays the inner-dialogue of public figures like Nancy Reagan, Christopher Hitchens, Pamela Harriman, and Richard Nixon, but Reagan remains an enigma to him, as well as to his characters in Finale: A Novel Of The Reagan Years.
Nancy Reagan is a complete nervous wreck, tortured by the premonitions and prophesies of her personal astrologer, recommended to her by television star, producer, and best buddy Merv Griffin. Christopher Hitchens is the suave up-and-coming journalist – mischievous, manipulative, ambitious, worldly. 1 Pamela Harriman, the ultimate courtesan and insider, flexes her political and financial muscles and almost has to remind herself to stop seeking “one last husband” after she inherits Ave Harriman’s fortune. Nixon is one of Mallon’s most fascinating portrayals – self-pitying, ambitious to retain influence, strategic to the end.2
I read this work of political historical fiction a few weeks ago, just before Ollie North was named the NRA president-elect, in a move which I assume was entirely calculated to “own” the Libs. North himself makes only tangential cameos in Finale, although the illegal trade with Iran and money-funneling to Central America is an important sub-plot in the story, involving fictional characters who work for the National Security Council apparatus in Washington.
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