Mrs. Nixon

A Novelist Imagines a Life
Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. Scribner. Nov. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9781439168714. $26. BIOGRAPHY
The penetrating and sometimes caustic Beattie, who defined a generation with her O. Henry- and PEN/Malamud Award-winning works, reimagines someone we've hardly thought about at all: Pat Nixon, wife of the hugely ambitious and hugely fallible President. Here's a book that, like Sebald's A Place in the Country (see p. 57), examines the imagination of the writer as much as the subject itself.
Short story writer and novelist Beattie (Chilly Scenes of Winter) here turns her attention to Pat Nixon. She incorporates interesting historical information, but her asides on narrator reliability, her comments about how she might change events if she could take part in the story, and her lengthy references to other works all will make readers acutely aware that this is a novelist's take on Mrs. Nixon's life, rather than a true biography. Beattie's comment, mid-book, that "writers tend to love people who volunteer very little, for their silence frees them to project onto them, though such characters are also confusing" is unfortunately true of this confusing work as a whole. Mrs. Nixon's actual historical silence makes her a good canvas for Beattie's questions and theories, but the reader is left with a baffling and incomplete portrait.
VERDICT Although Beattie clearly did research, this is not a biography. Nor is it entirely fiction. Nor is it literary criticism, as the publisher's advance copy categorizes it. In other words, it's easy to say what it is not, but as to what it is, readers are certain to be left uncertain. Beattie's real strengths are not evident here. For Beattie completists only.—Crystal Goldman, San José State Univ. Lib., CA
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing