Cover image for Landfall
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, 2019.
Physical Description:
xiii, 473 pages ; 25 cm
From "a master of the historical novel" (Newsweek), whose fiction "unfolds with the urgency of a thriller" (The New Yorker), the tumultuous--at once witty and sad--chronicle of George W. Bush's second term, as his aspirations toward greatness are thrown into upheaval by the twin catastrophes of Iraq and Katrina. Landfall has at its center a president whose high-speed shifts between charm and petulance, resoluteness and self-pity, continually energize and mystify those around him--including his acerbic and crafty mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush; the desperately correct but occasionally unbuttoned Condoleezza Rice; the gnomic and manipulative Donald Rumsfeld; and the caustic observer Ann Richards (Bush's predecessor as governor of Texas). A gallery of political and media figures, from the widowed Nancy Reagan to the philandering John Edwards to the brilliantly contrarian Christopher Hitchens, bring the novel and the era to life. The story is deepened and driven by two West Texans: Ross Weatherall and Allison O'Connor, whose destinies have been affixed to Bush's since they were teenagers in the 1970s; a true believer and skeptic who end up exchanging ideological places in a romantic and political drama that unfolds in locations from New Orleans to Baghdad, and during the parties, press conferences and state funerals of Washington, D. C. Landfall is the culmination of a contemporary epic whose previous volumes (Watergate and Finale) have been repeatedly singled out as outstanding novels of the years in which they appeared.


Material Type
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Book Fiction Mallo
Book Fiction Mallo
Book Fiction Mallo

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Set during the tumultuous middle of the George W. Bush years--amid the twin catastrophes of the Iraq insurgency and Hurricane Katrina-- Landfall brings Thomas Mallon's cavalcade of contemporary American politics, which began with Watergate and continue with Finale, to a vivid and emotional climax.

The president at the novel's center possesses a personality whose high-speed alternations between charm and petulance, resoluteness and self-pity, continually energize and mystify the panoply of characters around him. They include his acerbic, crafty mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush; his desperately correct and eager-to-please secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice; the gnomic and manipulative Donald Rumsfeld; foreign leaders from Tony Blair to Vladimir Putin; and the caustic one-woman chorus of Ann Richards, Bush's predecessor as governor of Texas. A gallery of political and media figures, from the widowed Nancy Reagan to the philandering John Edwards to the brilliantly contrarian Christopher Hitchens, bring the novel and the era to life.

The story is deepened and driven by a love affair between two West Texans, Ross Weatherall and Allison O'Connor, whose destinies have been affixed to Bush's since they were teenagers in the 1970s. The true believer and the skeptic who end up exchanging ideological places in a romantic and political drama that unfolds in locations from New Orleans to Baghdad and during the parties, press conferences, and state funerals of Washington, D.C.

Author Notes

Thomas Mallon, author of "In Fact", is a frequent contributor to many magazines & journals. His column, "Doubting Thomas" ran for six years in GQ. His novels Dewey Defeats Truman & Henry & Clara were New York Times Notable Books. A recipient of Guggenheim & Rockefeller fellowships, he lives in Westport, Connecticut.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his fantastic latest, Mallon (Finale) recreates the political events of George W. Bush's years as president-and their impact on Washington, D.C., and the world-so meticulously that they hardly seem the stuff of a fictional narrative. Spanning the decades from 1978, when the future president made a failed congressional bid, to his penultimate year in the White House in 2007, the novel gives dramatic scope and heft to incidents that defined his presidency post-9/11, especially America's invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Hurricane Katrina's ravaging of New Orleans in 2005. (The characters consider the administration's management of these two events somewhat similar.) Mallon provides juicy, humanized depictions of interactions between the familiar talking heads of state-including moments of disdainful disregard between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and between the president and his v-p-that will leave readers wondering how much of what he portrays is imagined. And he uses the personal evasion and deception that challenge the amorous relationship between invented characters Ross Weatherall, a disillusioned director for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, and Allison O'Connor, a key Iraq negotiator in the president's National Security Council, as a lens through which to scrutinize the political strategies of the era. This novel makes a fascinating flesh-and-blood spectacle out of moments now relegated to history. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The conclusion to a loose trilogy that includes Watergate (2012) and Finale (2015), Mallon's latest incisive, historically themed novel centers on George W. Bush's second term. It provides an insider's view of how his ambitious agenda gets derailed by the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina and the inept federal response to it. Mallon demonstrates great skill in animating a large cast of prominent personalities, with characterizations ranging from cheekily funny (the banter between Larry King and former Texas governor Ann Richards) to biting (the good-looking, self-interested John Edwards) to deeply empathetic. Readers will find some nods to today's political dramas; for instance, Brett Kavanaugh makes several appearances. Witty conversation ensues as scenes shift between meetings, speeches, elegant dinners, and other domestic and international gatherings, while the depiction of flooded New Orleans is starkly sobering. Against this anxious backdrop, Bush's moods swing from confidence to uncertainty, and two fictional characters, prickly NSC staffer Allison O'Connor and Ross Weatherall, a new federal administrator responsible for updating WPA guidebooks, interact with the real-life figures. Their viewpoints and romance are shaped by their opposing reactions to Bush's policies and their on-the-ground experiences. Mallon's latest fictional portrayal of the American political scene is impressively detailed and enticingly readable.--Sarah Johnson Copyright 2019 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

LANDFALL, by Thomas Mallon. (Pantheon, $29.95.) The latest of this author's Washington political novels imagines the goings-on inside (and outside) George W. Bush's White House in 2005-6, with a romance between aides figuring as prominently as Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. ALL THE LIVES WE EVER LIVED: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, by Katharine Smyth. (Crown, $26.) In this elegiac memoir written in the wake of her father's death, Smyth turns to Woolf's masterpiece "To the Lighthouse" for comfort and insight. Her exploration of grown-up love, the kind that accounts for who the loved one actually is, gains power and grace as her story unfolds. LADY FIRST: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk, by Amy S. Greenberg. (Knopf, $30.) Greenberg argues that Polk, the slaveowning territorial expansionist who was married to the 11th president, was one of the most powerful and influential first ladies in history. BOWLAWAY, by Elizabeth McCracken. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) McCracken's long-awaited new novel offers a rich family saga, a history of candlepin bowling and a burlesque chronicle of American oddballs. It's a crowded book, but McCracken's ironic perspective and humane imagination never desert her. THE COLLECTED SCHIZOPHRENIAS: Essays, by Esme Weijun Wang. (Graywolf, paper, $16.) Wang draws on her own multiple psychotic breaks and hospitalizations to present a picture of schizophrenia that never reduces it to pathology. She effectively explores the state of mind she enters when gripped by an episode, recasting it as simply another form of consciousness. WE CAST A SHADOW, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin. (One World, $27.) This ingenious novel, set in a futuristic American South and featuring a father willing to go to extremes to protect his son from racism, marks the debut of an abundantly talented and stylish satirist. NOTES FROM A BLACK WOMAN'S DIARY: Selected Works of Kathleen Collins, edited by Nina Lorez Collins. (Ecco/HarperCollins, paper, $17.99.) Collins, who died in 1988, is best remembered as the first black woman to direct a feature film ("Losing Ground"). But she was a skilled writer too, and this collection, edited by her daughter, probes complex interior lives. THICK: And Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom. (New Press, $24.99.) This profound cultural analysis, a model of black intellectualism, deftly mixes the academic and the popular. DRAGON PEARL, by Yoon Ha Lee. (Rick Riordan/Hyperion, $16.99; ages 8 to 12.) Elements of Korean mythology turbocharge this space opera, in which a shape-shifting fox disguised as a human seeks her missing brother. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:



4 FEBRUARY 23, 2005 U.S. Ambassador's Residence; Brussels, Belgium "No, sir, you go ahead," said Condi Rice. "I insist."   The basement exercise room contained only one elliptical, the pre­ferred machine of both the president and his secretary of state. "I'll take this," Condi said, getting on the stationary bike.   Bush gave her a wink and a suit-yourself shrug. Where he'd really like to be was out in the Maryland woods on his own mountain bike, leaving the Secret Service in the dust. But the elliptical would do. He was feeling pretty good, almost back to his precampaign weight; for the last couple of weeks Laura had been telling him to dial back the workouts, which had started seeming a little fanatical to her, like his devotion to being on time.   Maybe she was right, but if truth be told, however un-Christian it might be, he couldn't stand being around the unfit. Unless they were lost in political conversation, Rove repelled him, and he couldn't say he'd been surprised when Gerson, that doughy version of Dilton Doi­ley from the Archie comics, had had his heart attack a week before Christmas. He wished Mike the best, but wouldn't mind having him, silver tongue and all, stepping back a bit. For a ghostwriter he was awfully, what would you call it, corporeal : never missed a chance to talk to the press about what a deep and tortured wordsmith he was.   "You think we're overstaying our welcome here?" the president asked Condi. "Three nights seems like a lot."   "Not at all," she assured him, while noticing that his arm and leg movements on the elliptical appeared to cancel each other out--as if drawing X's on the air. "You're saving the taxpayers a big hotel bill!"   Bush cocked his head into the nod-smirk combination that said "I suppose." Tom Korologos, the ambassador upstairs, was a fine guy who went way back with Dad; a blunt, no-b.s. fixer and smoother who'd made a fortune lobbying but had gotten off his seventy-year-old ass to spend four months working under Bremer in Iraq at the start of the occupation. That's what had earned him his perch here, not all the years shuffling between K Street and the White House and the Hill.   "Okay," he said at last, agreeing with Condi on the matter of hospi­tality. "But some of our staff guys are eating Mormon the Greek out of house and home." Korologos, improbably enough, had started life in Utah.   Condi put the pedals of her bike through another ten rotations before asking, "So now that three days have passed, how do you think 'Old Europe' is treating you?"   This was a crack against Rumsfeld, who was never afraid to point out that within the "coalition of the willing," the newer NATO coun­tries, the ones from Eastern Europe, had been a lot more willing than the slack, half-socialist originators of the Western alliance. Blair had had to drag the Brits to Baghdad kicking and screaming. And the rest, of course, were even worse. But Rumsfeld's comments made things harder; Bush had had to sit there yesterday and smile at the EU repre­sentative Don had pronounced irrelevant.   "Well, I enjoyed my breakfast with Tony," the president told Condi, and it was true. Unlikely as it might be, he was sure Blair preferred him to Clinton, even if those two had all that "third way" stuff in common.   "You know, sir," explained Condi, going into her schoolmarm mode, "there's one way in which the U.K. can be considered new Europe instead of old. They didn't join the EU with the first 'Inner Six' members; some years passed before they came in."   He tried to look appreciative above the crablike grindings of the elliptical. "Well, it was a lot more fun having breakfast with Tony than having dinner with Pepé Le Pew." He'd had to host Chirac right here, upstairs, on Monday night, a nauseating couple of hours. They'd pretended to be friends, behaving as if the Axis of Weasel days were actually behind them. He'd found himself wishing he were across a table from Berlusconi, that crude and crazy Italian version of Claytie Williams. "Still, I did my best to behave. I hope you noticed I called the potatoes 'French fries' and not 'freedom' ones. Even though they looked like hash browns to me."   Condi smiled, gratefully, over this bit of conciliation. " Frites ," she said. "Or aiguillettes ."   "Aggie-what?"   "What the French call French fries."   "Well, let 'em eat aiguillettes. It was pretty damned diplomatic of me, I thought."   Over on the bike, Condi was finally breathing through her mouth instead of her nose. "I am glad you told Chirac no," she said, puffing just a little, "when he proposed that Israeli-Palestinian conference."   " Hell no is more like it. That's one mess I leave to you . I once told Clinton, 'You taught yourself the name of every damned street in Jerusalem. Fat lot of good it did you--or anybody over there.' "   He took the elliptical up two notches, and Condi added another full mph to the stationary bike.   "The worst is yet to come," he told her, getting back to the present trip.   "You mean Schröder?"   "Gerhard the Godawful." The German chancellor had gotten himself elected to a second term more or less by running against him . The two of them had a meeting and, even worse, a presser scheduled for this afternoon, all of it down in Mainz, where Dad and Kohl had wowed the locals back in '89. "I'd rather spend an hour with Qadaffi. Or thirty minutes with Gore."   As always, he was pleased when he got a laugh--a matter of the deepest satisfaction to him ever since he'd taken it upon himself, at the age of seven, to cheer up Mother, despairing over the death of his little sister in that hotbox of a house in Midland.   "As it is," he now added, "my time with Gerhard will break Dick's speed record in Afghanistan." Back in December, having gone to Kabul for Karzai's inauguration, Cheney had remained on the ground for less than seven hours.   After a few more scuttlings on the elliptical, he noticed that Condi wasn't saying anything. When it came to Dick, she tended to tread even more cautiously than she did with Rumsfeld.   "What Schröder will hit you hardest on is Vienna," she finally said. The Germans and most of the rest of the Europeans wanted the U.S. to join their talks with the Iranians, as if that were all it would take to get the mullahs to stop a nuclear-weapons program whose existence they didn't even admit.   "Yeah, well, I'll tell Gerhard I'll pencil Vienna in for right after that Israeli-Palestinian conference. Which should be about the twelfth of never." He shot Condi a smile. "You old enough to remember that one?"   "Oh, we listened to a lot of Johnny Mathis in Birmingham, sir. I guarantee you it came over the radio when I was strapped in my car seat."   The two of them went at a fast, even pace for a while, until he sig­naled he was ready for a cool-down. He loved the way this machine was saving his knees.   "I'll get through today, but I wish we were flying back to Fargo instead of Frankfurt." He'd been enjoying all the day trips for the Social Security proposal, the town halls and pep rallies from Omaha to Tampa. For half a day at a time he could trick himself into think­ing he was having the sort of domestic-focused presidency he once expected to have.   "How's that going?" asked Condi.   "Social Security?"   "Yes."   He shrugged. So far there'd been mostly bad news. He explained to her how he'd pissed off Max Baucus, who'd been crucial to tax reform, by barging into Montana without letting the senator know he was descending on his home state. It had been a staff fuckup, but so far there'd been no sign of forgiveness. He could hear a faraway sound creeping into his voice as he talked about it all to Condi. "You know, I've been pushing Social Security reform since I ran against Hance."   She nodded supportively, and he told himself this was no time to get into some all-Kraut funk over Mad Max and Grim Gerhard. He stopped the elliptical and mopped his face with the hand towel. All the white noise vanished from the basement when Condi stopped the stationary bike.   "You're the one that got me into this trip," he teased. They both remembered the memo she'd sent, just after agreeing to take State, telling him that he needed to get serious about making up with the Europeans, no matter how childish they'd been.   "Yes, I was," replied Condi, trying to imitate one of Laura's it's-good-for-you-and-you'll-thank-me smiles.   "What's that phrase you've been using?"   " 'Transformational diplomacy.' But I've also been saying 'freedom' to the Europeans every chance I get."   He had to resist saying "good girl," though it wouldn't be a catas­trophe if the words slipped out. He liked being with Condi because she didn't make him walk any feminist or racial minefield. He was sorry to be seeing less of her these days than when she'd been his NSA, but that was the price to pay for being rid of Powell, who had spent most of the first term looking annoyed, even pained , trying to convince everybody he was doing them a favor just by being there.   "Tell me what you used to say back at the start?" he asked her. There was no need to explain that "the start" meant the beginning of Iraq, in '03. "About the best way to handle the Euros?"   Condi lowered her eyes with a sort of faux bashfulness, as if embar­rassed instead of delighted to be repeating a bit of mischief that had pleased him: " 'Punish France; ignore Germany; forgive Russia.' "   "Love it!" he replied, wiping his face again. "And look forward to China."   There was no need to explain this, either. He mentioned the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as often as a high school teacher motivatingly invoked the coming senior class trip. As the administration's top sports fans, he and Condi would revel in that farewell junket more than anyone else. In fact, he was almost alarmed by the intensity of his yearning for it. He'd enjoyed his new sense of legitimacy for about two weeks after last fall's clear-cut reelection, before realizing how much he already wanted the whole thing to be over. Excerpted from Landfall: A Novel by Thomas Mallon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.