A historical novel that cleverly postulates an alternate reality in which President Richard Nixon refuses to resign.
The author, former chief of staff to Nixon, is well-positioned to pen a novel based on Nixon’s drama-ridden presidency. Taylor’s (Patterns of Abuse, 1988) second book follows the events on the day Nixon announced his intention to vacate the White House in 1974. In this version, without informing his closest advisers, Nixon decides to remain in the Oval Office. In order to properly defend himself against his Watergate accusers, the president invokes the 25th Amendment, which allows him to temporarily hand over his executive powers to Vice President Gerald Ford. Only one person, an unheralded and green staffer, Emily Weissman, seems to be in the know; Nixon asked her to help him craft his bombshell remarks. What ensues is the chaos that often accompanies uncertainty. Will Nixon’s unprecedented transfer of power generate the appearance of national weakness, potentially emboldening North Vietnam to defy a standing peace accord with the South? Will a battered Republican Party, likely to lose even more ground in the upcoming congressional elections, be further demoralized or find renewal in Nixon’s intransigence? Even mundane practical matters seem difficult to settle decisively: Does the Constitution mandate that Ford be sworn in? Emily, a staunch Nixon loyalist, is the beating heart of the narrative, rising to the challenge of history-making. And to complicate matters, she falls for a calculating Reagan operative who takes the other side in an internecine war brewing within the Republican Party. The prose is razor-sharp and historically astute, and the dialogue is crisp and witty. Consider this gem from the staff secretary at the National Security Council; he’s talking to the White House operator after Nixon handed the baton to Ford: “ ‘This is Mr. Szabados at the NSC. May I please speak with the president?’ ‘Which one?’ she said. ‘The one who bombed Cambodia.’ ”
An artfully rendered, suspenseful look at an imaginary turn in Nixon’s presidency.