Finale A novel of the Reagan years

Thomas Mallon, 1951-

Book - 2015

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Historical fiction
New York : Pantheon Books [2015]
First edition
Physical Description
xii, 462 pages ; 25 cm
Main Author
Thomas Mallon, 1951- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* This most contemporary of Mallon's historically based novels is set amid the American political scene in late 1986. Those who remember the Reagan era will find all the happenings and brouhahas placed before their eyes again, like the War on Drugs, the AIDS crisis, the Reykjavík Summit on nuclear arms control, and the Iran-Contra disaster. All are related from numerous real and fictional characters' viewpoints, from journalist Christopher Hitchens—full of verbal zingers—to Jimmy Carter, a craftily disturbed John Hinckley, and a still-influential ex-president Nixon. It takes gumption to fictionalize living people, and Mallon doesn't hold back on Nancy Reagan, a constant worrier who stage-manages her husband on her astrologer's advice. On the opposite side, Pamela Harriman seeks to find the perfect Democratic candidate. An older Anne Macmurray, the heroine from Dewey Defeats Truman (1997), plays a significant role, too. Reagan himself remains inscrutable, realistically so. When former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick calls him "the most impersonally warm man I've ever encountered," she conveys his magnetism while pinning him down as well as anyone can. Despite all the scene-jumping, the transitions are seamless; there's a whirlwind of activity and abundant snappy dialogue. With his customary flair, Mallon has crafted a scrupulously researched novel that gives readers a front-row seat on world-changing events—a combination that proves irresistible. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

This new book from Mallon, author of the PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Watergate, is set in 1986, as the Cold War seeps away and a host of Soviet dissidents, illegal arms traders, and antinuclear activists brush up against the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Bette Davis (surprise!), and an inscrutable President Ronald Reagan. [Page 60]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Mallon, a longtime master at fictionally realizing history (Watergate), here takes on the "Reagan years," specifically 1986. A few fictional subplots backdrop the main action, wherein a number of historical figures are given voice: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Christopher Hitchens, even Bette Davis and John Hinckley. Except for Hinckley, the characters are nuanced, not simple pasteups. Take one of the principals, Nancy Reagan: astrology obsessed for sure but also self-aware ("The Gaze" is a ruse), reflective, and genuinely human. Those who absolutely adore or detest her will probably both be disappointed. So it is with the others. The book's centerpiece is the Iceland disarmament summit with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and the tension is manifest. Readers who didn't experience this time in history—or who aren't familiar with the myriad luminaries who appear here, from Lindy Boggs through Jeanne Kirkpatrick and from Pat Moynihan to Mort Zuckerman—may feel at sea at times. But it's worth it for this well-developed snapshot of an important year. Oh, Reagan himself? He comes across as vaguely charming but unreadable to friend and foe alike. As Kirkpatrick "says" to Nixon: "You're complex, yes, but palpable. Reagan is smoke." VERDICT For all devotees of historical fiction and this time period.—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY [Page 87]. (c) Copyright 2015 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this novel, Mallon (Watergate) fixes his wide-angle historical lens on the presidency of Ronald Reagan, in particular the events leading up to the exposé of the Iran-Contra affair in 1986. As befitting the author's usual literary mode, Reagan himself is a minor character in his own story. The major characters include such real-life personalities as rising English journalist Christopher Hitchens, the much-married English socialite Pamela Harriman, and would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. Worked in among these are several fictional characters, including Anders Little, an arms-control expert with a sexual secret; his friend, Anne Macmurray, an anti-nukes advocate; and her dying ex-husband, Peter Cox, a Texas contributor to Republican candidates. And of course, hovering in the background is "tan, rested and ready" Richard Milhouse Nixon in all his tragic Shakespearean glory, ever trying to restore his blackened legacy. Although largely plotless, the novel boasts a telephone book–sized cast of characters and fits them inside a chronicle large enough to encompass the Reagan-era gay revisionism of Tony Kushner's Angels in America and the gossip of Truman Capote's "La Cote Basque, 1965." What Mallon does best is dramatize the bizarre '80s intersection of Hollywood and Washington, D.C., as equal weight is given to Merv Griffin and Eva Gabor as to Pat Buchanan and Jeane Kirkpatrick, creating in the process a crazy, quilted depiction of a contradiction-filled presidential administration. (Sept.) [Page ]. Copyright 2015 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A fictionalized depiction of the Reagan years captures the tumultuous administration of an enigmatic president, the final years of the Cold War, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and Reagan's encounters with other world leaders.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An analysis of the Reagan Administration shares insights into the 40th president's character and decisions while evaluating key historical events and the influences of such figures as Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A New York Times Notable Book   One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily Beast, The Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-DispatchAdding to a fiction chronicle that has already spanned American history from the Lincoln assassination to the Watergate scandal, Thomas Mallon now brings to life the tumultuous administration of the most consequential and enigmatic president in modern times. Finale captures the crusading ideologies, blunders, and glamour of the still-hotly-debated Reagan years, taking readers to the political gridiron of Washington, the wealthiest enclaves of Southern California, and the volcanic landscape of Iceland, where the president engages in two almost apocalyptic days of negotiation with Mikhail Gorbachev.   Along with Soviet dissidents, illegal-arms traders, and antinuclear activists, the novel’s memorable characters include Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Pamela Harriman, John W. Hinckley, Jr. (Reagan’s would-be assassin), and even Bette Davis, with whom the president had long ago appeared onscreen. Several figures—including a humbled, crafty Richard Nixon; the young, brilliantly acerbic Christopher Hitchens; and an anxious, astrology-dependent Nancy Reagan (on the verge of a terrible realization)—become the eyes through which readers see the last convulsions of the Cold War, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and a political revolution.   At the center of it all—but forever out of reach—is Ronald Reagan himself, whose genial remoteness confounds his subordinates, his children, and the citizens who elected him. Finale is the book that Thomas Mallon’s work has been building toward for years.  It is the most entertaining and panoramic novel about American politics since Advise and Consent, more than a half century ago.