On the Spot: Thomas Mallon

February 29, 2012

“Watergate” is the fourth novel Thomas Mallon has set inside the Beltway, and it’s certainly the most ambitious. The novelist, who has lived in Washington for nearly a decade, imagines the scandal from the perspectives of its primary participants, including President Nixon.

Why did you decide to fictionalize one of the most written-about political events of the 20th century?
I guess it all starts with Nixon. He was the public figure who dominated my life. I was an ardent Nixon supporter when I was 9 years old, and I would tell my classmates that I didn’t think Kennedy had enough experience to be president, which strikes me as a preposterous position for a fourth-grader.

What can a novelist do with this material that a nonfiction writer can’t?
Speculate. “Watergate” isn’t what’s called alternate history, but you have the opportunity to insert things in the cracks. What the novelist can do is take a well-known story and try to get readers to think about it in a different way, to experience it with a new intimacy.

What attracts you to D.C. as a setting for so many books?
The city is an endless font of stories. When I wrote “Henry and Clara,” about the couple in the balcony with the Lincolns on the night of his assassination, I remember thinking if you just look at all the real-life stories that took place in Lafayette Square, you’d never run out of material.

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Sat., 6 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness) 
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Marc Silver · February 29, 2012