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REVISITING THE REAGAN YEARS

Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years - Thomas Mallon

Several weeks ago, I had the delight of seeing the author of "FINALE: A Novel of the Reagan Years" at a book reading at a local independent bookstore. He was very engaging, funny, and showed a rare gift for mimicry, evoking the voices of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and a few other historical figures from the mid to late 1980s.

Shortly after that experience, I began reading this novel and as someone who was living in the era he describes, it was a treat to see events being played out from the perspectives of a variety of characters, both fictional and historical. The novel begins on the final day of the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City in which Ronald Reagan, though having lost the nomination to Gerald Ford, is allowed to speak on the convention floor. He makes a rousing speech which moves the hearts of the party delegates, leaving many of them to wonder if they had chosen the right man to be their standard bearer against Jimmy Carter in the fall campaign.

Then the reader is carried through the heart of the Reagan years, with a special focus placed on the October 1986 Reykjavik Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev of the USSR and the emerging Iran-Contra scandal which arose in the immediate aftermath of the 1986 midterm Congressional elections, which saw the Democrats regain control of the Senate and maintain their majority in the House of Representatives.

Some of the novel's most memorable characters are "Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Pamela Harriman, John W. Hinckley Jr. (Reagan's would-be assassin), and even Bette Davis, with whom [President Reagan] had long ago appeared onscreen." Also making appearances are "a humbled, crafty Richard Nixon [who --- through his relationship with Anders Little, an apostate Democrat, true believer in the Reagan Revolution and staffer on the National Security Council --- maintains in-house contacts with the Administration]; the young, brilliantly acerbic Christopher Hitchens; and an anxious, astrology-dependent Nancy Reagan", fiercely protective of her Ronnie and his presidential legacy. All of these characters are "the eyes through which readers see the last convulsions of the Cold War, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and a political revolution."

This was a novel with which I felt completely at home the more I read it. There were several passages in it which made me LAUGH OUT LOUD, rekindling many memories of those distant years. The depictions of Reagan in "FINALE" also resonated with me in certain ways. As a 17-year old in the early 1980s, I had been part of a group of high school seniors (all of us winners of national scholarships) who had been invited to the White House, where Reagan spoke to us for half an hour. All I will say about that experience is that I can understand why there were many Americans who found him to be a nice, likeable guy.

Read "FINALE" and lose yourself vicariously in what was a vastly interesting, at times perilous, and fun era