Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Dazzlingly original, Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon is a riveting exploration of an elusive American icon and of the fiction writer’s art.
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.
saw yet perhaps did not really understand. We can easily imagine Nixon, and even Mrs. Nixon, in the days before the resignation, head in hand, muttering How? How? How?, not obsessing about how to handle their future but projecting themselves back to the source, real or imagined, of their self-created tragedy. Certainly the appearance of Mr. Nixon became that point in Pat Ryan’s life, the mystery to which every question returned. Approximately Twenty Milk Shakes As the gals know, drinking a
though the narrator will eventually step away from her at the end of the story. Then, sentences—the writer’s sentences; language the writer has held in check, providing a few hints but giving the illusion of merely reporting, going along with the limitations of his character—appear: “She stayed two days, and felt happy; and her trip was a success—on her return to Kansas City she was ready to die, and seven years later she accomplished this end: her mind was pure, and once, in the hospital, she
us can come out. It’s almost required. We have been swept up in the inevitability, the necessity, of their union for much of the story, but when we have no more information, we can only imagine, and to imagine means to reassess. Thelma Ryan, a.k.a. Buddy or Patricia, found herself in such a situation when she met Richard Nixon. He was compelled to pursue her—to go to Moscow, in effect—but I’m not sure if she’d lost her own sense of credibility, as has Anna Sergeevna, who wants her lover to
Ibid., p. 144. “constitutional crises”: Ibid., p. 181. Prophetic Moments Princess Diana: Geoffrey Levy and Richard Kay, “Yesterday Was Diana’s 49th Birthday, and Her Sisters Wonder: What Would Her Life Be Like Now?” Mail Online, last modified July 2, 2010, www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1291382/Yesterday-Dianas-49th-birthday-sisters-wonder-What-life-like-now.html. Helene Drown: PN, p. 115. I Didn’t Meet Her David Kirby, “Skinny-Dipping with Pat Nixon,” in Pushcart Prize XXXII, ed. Bill
perceive one thing, find out it’s another, then love him anyway, though no one is ever happy with him (in spite of loving him). And that’s the status quo? Can Dmitri assume that all women see through him? Are we to believe that all women settle, in exactly this way? I question this not because of feminist sensibilities but because the assertion is at first strong and disarming, then perplexing, as a description of how relationships evolve. Again, we have nothing with which to judge this: not the