From the insanely talented and heavily lauded novelist and short-story writer Ann Beattie comes another tour-de-force, Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. Part historical biography, part imaginative fiction, part writing manual, this work is so original it’s impossible to define its exact genre.

Beattie’s unique book is meticulously researched, drawing from numerous historical accounts of the former First Lady, including books by Woodward and Bernstein, old Life magazine articles and television interviews. Beattie creates introspective, revealing narratives of how Pat Nixon might have reacted to a specific incident, or what she might have thought during a specific event. She weaves in actual dialogue from the former president and his wife, so at times, the reader cannot tell what is real, or what is imagined by the author.

Beattie seamlessly manages not only to write about an interesting public figure, but also to create an ode to the art of writing. A professor at the University of Virginia, Beattie is quick to share with her audience how she wrote this book (in the book itself!) while drawing from other writers’ work to display examples of how character is developed (a riff on Raymond Carver’s Cathedral being a particularly intriguing vignette).

One shouldn’t have to classify this book as fiction, or memoir, or nonfiction, because it stands in a category by itself. Beattie is a master at writing lines that one underlines to read again and again. For history lovers, for writers, for fans of Beattie’s work, Mrs. Nixon is a remarkable story from a writer who continues to surprise and dazzle.

comments powered by Disqus