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Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life

2.38  ·  Rating details ·  196 ratings  ·  62 reviews
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.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Scribner
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Carol Storm
Jul 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
There are a hundred one star reviews for Mrs. Nixon here on Goodreads. And I agree with all of them!

But most of the negative reviews just focus on the obvious. Ann Beattie is too lazy to create any new characters, so she just pastes together a few excerpts from books already published about Richard and Pat Nixon. And she includes a whole bunch of unconnected snippets about her favorite short stories, and vague and generalized guidelines on the art of fiction that sound like she just photocopied
Aug 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
I didn't like this book, but that dislike was ACTIVE.

Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times expressed exactly how I felt:

"The title of Ann Beattie's new book, "Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life," suggests that the author might be trying to channel Pat Nixon or conjure up her life with Dick, much the way Curtis Sittenfeld channeled a Laura Bush-like first lady in her 2008 novel, "American Wife." [I picked the book off the library shelf because I thought it might be like "American Wife." My
Ruth Seeley
Mar 10, 2012 rated it liked it
I was intrigued by the premise of this 'novel' and even more intrigued once I started reading it. This is in no way, shape or form a 'novel' as we know it - or even entirely fiction. It is, rather, Beattie's rather intellectual exploration of what it would be like to write a historical novel if one set out to do so. In a bizarre sort of way, I think this book is to a novel what white space is to graphic design and typography - an outline of what we know, what is real, what we can imagine, and an ...more
Jan 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Oh my! What has happened to Anne Beattie? I used to rush to read her stories in The New Yorker and looked forward to any of her books of short stories.

This was absolutely dreadful. It is not history, not a biography, not a novel. It appears to be a book about writing on an extended topic. There are imagined scenes and dialogue that don't seem to ring true at all. The title, Mrs Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, led me to believe that I would read a fictionalized account of Pat Nixon's life.
Dec 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
I didn't REALLY finish this book, but I have too much to say about it to NOT rate it as if I had.

I was fairly excited about this book; I really like the idea of short chapters in a real person's imagined life. It's not that I'm particularly interested in Pat Nixon, but why not Pat Nixon? But instead of this book reading like an imagined life story, it read like a book by a professor of short stories sharing all her expertise about short stories. Tangentially connected to Pat Nixon. Frankly, I
Jan 11, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is marketed as a novel, yet the author uses a pedantic approach-- as though teaching creative writing -- via the imagined life of Pat Nixon, wife of our disgraced President. The author's writing style is quite disconcerting because it reads like a text book. Must she explain the most obvious analogies, i.e., crystal bowl and crystal ball?The many comparisons of the Nixons and/or events in their lives to literary works, such as Chekhov, seems to be a purely academic effort with little ...more
Jim Zubricky
Jan 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
I first read excerpts of this book in the New Yorker a few months ago and I was intrigued! I picked it up and started reading it and it feels like I'm being lectured to while the author tries valiantly to compare Pat Nixon's life to characters in literature. I honestly thought that this would be a full-fledged novel, and instead i'm getting the feeling like I'm in a class and I'm reading the instructor's notes for a lecture. From the reviews I've been reading, it sounds like several people are ...more
Stephen Gallup
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I got through this book the first time about a month ago, and included it in a list of favorites for the year over on my blog. But I wasn't finished with it then and have continued to paw back and forth among the various sections to admire what the author has done here.

Ann Beattie has been a well-known novelist and short story writer since the mid-70s. It so happens that I was in a writing workshop that she was leading at the University of Virginia when her first novel and first collection of
Douglas Perry
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Ann Beattie was 24 when the Watergate burglaries happened, wrecking the young graduate student's youthful idealism.

Now, all these years later, the acclaimed writer is trying to come to grips with the trauma by homing in on one of its victims. In "Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life," Beattie writes of the Nixon presidency's denouement: "My eyes and my curiosity riveted themselves to Mrs. Nixon at her husband's side. I had accepted her as relatively unimportant; she was the antithesis of a
Joy H.
Added 11/18/11.
I first heard about this book from a NY Times review. It sounds intriguing. Below are excerpts from the Goodreads description:
"Pat Nixon remains one of our most mysterious and intriguing public figures, the only modern first lady who never wrote a memoir."
"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
Mar 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is an interesting little book in that I liked it because it was so different and it was amazing in it's concept, but I could not give it five stars.
I read this at the urging of a friend even though I couldn't imagine much interesting about Pat Nixon or, for that matter, her husband. They seem like sawdust people. There is nothing inventive, creative or adventurous about either one of them.
Everything they do is proper and stiff from the way they dress to how they conduct themselves. They
Robert Bolan
Feb 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Not as much a guide to the craft of writing as those by Welty, King, Gardner and Davies, but more of an annotated tour. A very self conscious book but enjoyable because on one level it really is about Mrs. Nixon, or the person Ann Beattie believes her to be. Once you finally realize that this is not a novel in the usual sense you can settle in to see how someone's life "must have been" based on indirect and fairly scanty evidence. If a person does not leave behind something they have written ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
As someone with a perverse interest in Nixoniana, I was expecting that Ann Beattie's Mrs. Nixon might do for Pat what Robert Coover did for (to?) RN in The Public Burning: take the historical figure as we have come to know him/her, smash through all those received narratives with the writerly sledgehammer, and rebuild him/her as a complex, sympathetic, pathetic, supremely weird character.

Mrs. Nixon is not that book.

Instead, it's a captivating collection of anecdotes, quips, imagined
Nov 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
The title alone holds more promise than Beattie, a masterful writer otherwise, produces. She asks many questions about events in Pat Nixon's life that aren't entirely known, details that she mulls over. Instead of writing them, imagining them, as you would expect, she lectures. And lectures. And lectures. (I don't recall signing up for one of her college courses.) She talks about other writers; she talks about the fiction writer's approach to writing fiction, but why do that at the expense of a ...more
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an intriguing book. It's about more than just Mrs. Nixon; it's about Richard Nixon, Watergate, writing, authors, fiction and nonfiction. Ann Beattie is quite taken with Mrs. Nixon, not just because she was a public figure but because she was a public figure who never allowed the public to know her. Beattie clearly relishes this lack of knowledge and attempts (and pretends at times) to fill in those gaps. The result appears to be a nonfictional and fictional account of Mrs. Nixon, but the ...more
Jul 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
Horrible book. Could not read it through. Have no idea how anyone would publish this. It is all rambling thoughts, conjecture, and fantasy.
Steven Felicelli
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Meta-fiction, as I understand it, is a kind of cognitive archaeology. Chasing your own tale (to catch its ontological Once upon a time). For Ann Beattie it's an MFA workshop.

There are some great moments in it and the prose is worthwhile, but it amounts to a creative writing exercise:

Choose someone you wouldn't normally etc.
Richard Jespers
Nov 08, 2014 rated it liked it
In its September 19, 2011 issue, The New Yorker published Beattie’s story, “Starlight.” At the time I wrote in my blog:

“This story is an imaginative recreation of the Nixons’ post-Watergate life. What draws Beattie to these banal people? They seem, in many ways, the least human of all such lionized couples. Each recognizable element of the Nixons’ story is like hearing the pings of xylophone keys—even, expected, and dull.”

After reading Mrs. Nixon, I don’t feel quite the same way. Perhaps the
By tackling the subject of the iconic and elusive "Mrs. Nixon," Ann Beattie has chosen an almost insurmountable task. The unknown and unknowable wife of Richard Nixon was a woman defined by the times and by her family history. She had learned early on to present a façade to the world and especially upon taking on the role of public figure. Her brief experience in acting, as a young person, may have best prepared her for this choice.

Beattie's work is a pursuit toward understanding the woman
Susan Emmet
Dec 19, 2015 rated it liked it
This interesting take on the novel is more about writing than about Pat Nixon. Or more about Richard Nixon than his wife.
I applaud Beattie's attempt to find truth in the life story of an enigmatic woman who held her privacy as intact and sacred as she could. I also felt renewed sorrow and disgust for the horrible events that unfolded during Nixon's tenure as legislator and president. So sad, so sad - and awful.
What Beattie tackles about the forces and details that move writers is worth reading
David Jay
Feb 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
The cover of this book features a terrific retro faux Warhol type graphic of Pat Nixon, the wife of former President Richard Nixon. I wanted to hang it on the wall.

Don't judge a book by its cover.

This piece of navel-gazing, narcissistic drivel is possibly the worst book I have ever read. I don't know why Beattie calls it "a novelist imagines a life" because she doesn't do anything remotely like that. She uses Pat Nixon as a sort of launching pad to discuss her thoughts on writing, and allows her
Dec 08, 2011 added it
In spite of the title, I don't think Pat Nixon is really the main character in Beattie's book. It seems to me to be far more about Ann Beattie's efforts to understand, or at least come to terms with, a character so interior that there she gives observers very few clues.

Beattie narrates her own puzzlement as she tries to imagine what was on Mrs. Nixon's mind in this situation or that. She's read the book by Julie Eisenhower, and she's studied the record -- looked at interviews, etc., but she
Donna Jo Atwood
I have a shoebox that has an assortment of papers in it--everything from newspaper clippings to recipes to not-quite-junk mail. This novel reminds me of that box.

Beattie, in her recreation of Mrs. Nixon's life, tells us that she may be an unreliable narrator and during the course of the book she reminds us often of that fact. Each chapter hops and skips through incidents that may or may not be fact, or based on fact, or fanciful lies that want to be facts. It is our job as reader to look at what
Dec 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: best-for-nobody
Spoiler Alert: A book about Pat Nixon-NOT!
I picked up this book for a couple reasons, I fondly remember reading Beattie's "Love Always" long ago and I was interested in possibly learning more about this enigmatic Pat Nixon. Love or hate the Nixons and without inviting political and personal rantings, this is an awful book for a number of reasons:
-Beattie condescends to both subject and reader throughout this tedious book.
-Beattie rambles off subject so often it's excruciatingly difficult to keep
Dec 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-book
Quite an unusual literary collage of sorts. Inappropriate to categorize as an authentic fictional biography of Pat Nixon because the primary focus appears to be the elephant in the "book" referred to as RN, and Ann Beattie's incessant professorial banter not only heavily spiced with a vast array of literary devices, but also replete with accompanying morsels.

"...Salesclerk, Lyrical Ballad Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., July2007: Some Life magazines, huh? Look at that Tricia Nixon Cox, on the
Jan 12, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I feel like I should explain the one star. This was a fascinating book for authors and would-be authors. I felt like it tricked me as a reader. It was called a novel, so I picked it up. In actuality, it was a how-to book on writing novels. I enjoy Ann Beattie and it was well-written, it just wasn't what I expected, and being squarely in the reader camp, not the writer camp, I just didn't enjoy it. I stopped about halfway through. I hate not finishing stuff, but I have a lot of books that I ...more
Margaret Sankey
Dec 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Because so much of Pat Nixon's life is opaque (no memoir, no confessional appearance on Oprah), Beattie fills in the gaps with short vignettes from a variety of character perspectives and ranging from the banal (Nixon's doctor insisting he gain weight by drinking four milkshakes a day) to following absurdities to their logical conclusions (Elvis' impromptu visit to the White House). As you would expect from Beattie's short stories, this is less about the Nixons than what we can hope to know and ...more
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
What might have been an original experiment blurring the lines between fact, fiction, and metafiction is instead an embarrassing and half-baked mess. Especially bad are Beattie's ludicrous prescriptive passages about writing itself, which make one cringe to think about what her poor students must have to endure in her classes. It's hard to believe that this awkward, labored attempt is by the same skillful (if also somewhat overrated) minimalist who was so entertaining and funny at the start of ...more
Jun 20, 2012 rated it liked it
This was a very interesting read! The author is an excellent writer who has an unusual way of presenting Pat Nixon. Each chapter was like a short story - some being a bit high-brow for me in a literary sense since I don't read many collections of short stories. Still, I enjoyed many of the chapters and learned a bit about Pat Nixon and her family. I couldn't classify it as either fiction or nonfiction, but it was somewhere in between. Good suggestion, Cat!
Margaret Dee
Sep 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
I read 100 pages of Mrs. Nixon. I wanted to like this book. I had seen the author interviewed several times when the book was published. It was put forth as taking historical events and then fictionalizing from there. There was not much about Mrs. Nixon herself. Much of the book revolved around other short stories. While I like reading about writing this just didn't seem to work. 100 pages was enough.
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Ann Beattie (born September 8, 1947) is an American short story writer and novelist. She has received an award for excellence from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and a PEN/Bernard Malamud Award for excellence in the short story form. Her work has been compared to that of Alice Adams, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, and John Updike. She holds an undergraduate degree from ...more