Thursday Reviews: Abuse Of Power: The New Nixon Tapes by Stanley I. Kutler, Misery by Stephen King

Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes

Stanley I. Kutler

I’m recommending the audio version of this book because of the performances by actors David Dukes (who should sue a certain Louisiana politician of ill-repute), David Ackroyd, and the late William Windom as Richard Nixon. I suspect there would be copyright issues to play the actual tape segments from the Nixon White House, but having actors reproduce the recordings from transcripts also eliminates a lot of tape noise and muffling.

Author/editor Kutler has distilled about two and a half years worth of recordings to paint a picture of the evolution of the Watergate scandal. In it, we see the tragic Nixon, so capable of self-destruction, surrounding himself with yes men who, it must be acknowledged, still managed a loyalty rare in politics.

Nixon’s foul mouth is on display here, as is his temper. He and Chief of Staff HR Haldeman and White House counsel John Ehrlichman first express surprise at the Watergate burglary, then cover it up, then go into denial about the cover-up. By the end of the tapes, which stopped in late 1973, Nixon has practically convinced himself that he didn’t know what was going on. Never mind the infamous conversation with John Dean about “a cancer on the presidency.” Nixon rants, threatens, lies, and even rationalizes over Watergate, turning on John Dean, originally Nixon’s golden boy, John Mitchell, Nixon’s faithful attorney general, and L. Patrick Gray, Nixon’s choice to replace J. Edgar Hoover. Even when acknowledging abusive practices such as breaking into offices and bugging opponents, Nixon says, in effect, “Well, Johnson did it, and I don’t want to embarrass Johnson.”

It’s a fascinating look at a sad chapter in American history.

Misery

Stephen King

We’ve often heard about obsessive fans. Rappers, aside from ego, usually have an entourage to protect them from their “number one fan!” Radio personalities will almost always use false names on the air. I have a cousin who never gave out his real name. Neither did my wife during her brief radio career. Both my cousin and my wife worked graveyard shifts on the weekends. Rock stars and high-profile actors will live in virtual fortresses to protect their privacy.

Writers normally don’t have such problems. I know several authors whose homes are not that difficult to find without knowing their addresses. However, they do have obsessive fans. Stephen King’s classic 1987 novel takes a look at the worst-case scenario: The author’s self-proclaimed “Number One Fan” rescues him from certain death only to hold him prisoner and force him to write the resurrection of her favorite character in a novel just for her. It doesn’t help that Annie Wilkes is a suspected serial killing nurse who now lives on an isolated farm in the Rocky Mountains. For Paul Sheldon, it’s as deep into hell as he can get. He hates his series about nineteenth-century airhead Misery Chastain to the point of killing her off and is proud of his new novel, the story of a Brooklyn car thief, his “serious” work.

Having finished his new novel, Sheldon sets off in his Camaro ahead of a nasty mountain snowstorm to go celebrate in Las Vegas. Naturally, he wrecks and soon finds himself the crippled prisoner of Annie.

All writers, from the struggling wannabe who never finishes that first novel to King himself, fear the Annie Wilkeses of the world, no matter how benign they are. No one wants to be pigeonholed into writing the same thing over and over. Moreover, it’s not the torture Anne puts Paul through in this novel, it’s the possessiveness some fans have toward their favorite works. There are fans who have lectured JK Rowling over Dumbledore’s correct sexuality or Gene Roddenberry over what the characters of Star Trek are “really” like. In fact, author Lee Goldberg spent years decrying fan fiction after one idiot’s scathing letter over a tie-in Lee had written because he ignored something that was “established in fanfic.”

But obviously, King has deeper fears he wants to address in this story. He hints at it in Misery, but they come to the surface in later works, the novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden” and The Dark Half.

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