[A] narcissistic, self-indulgent, hot-air-filled tome that condescends to its ostensible subject, Mrs. Nixon, and that wastes the reader’s time making ridiculous comparisons between, say, the Nixons and the characters in the Raymond Carver story “Cathedral,” or between the Nixons and the characters in the Chekhov story “The Lady With the Little Dog.” There are silly creative-writing-class exercises, like replacing every noun in Mr. Nixon’s famous Checkers speech with the seventh noun below it in the dictionary; and imagining some incidental events in Mrs. Nixon’s life (like taking a bubble bath or drawing sea creatures in the beach sand with her big toe). The chapter titled “Mrs. Nixon Has Thoughts on the War’s Escalation” consists of this one inane sentence: “You and Henry ordering the ‘Christmas Bombing’ was pesky!”...Ouch. Remember when everyone fawned over Ann Beattie?
...Ms. Beattie spreads a gluey gloss of speculation over Pat Nixon, much of it patronizing, stupid or insulting. For example, she writes that Mrs. Nixon thought for herself, but did so “well within cultural conditioning” and “didn’t think metaphorically.”
In one of her efforts to impersonate Mrs. Nixon, Ms. Beattie assumes an icky, Mrs. Cleaver-like voice, talking about making milkshakes to fatten up her husband so he’ll look better on TV in the next debate against John F. Kennedy. (“It’s festive, pretty and full of calories.”) Worse, much of this book feels like a lecture about creative writing....
December 13, 2011
By Michiko Kakutani.