With his latest novel, Landfall, set during the second term of the George W. Bush administration, Thomas Mallon completes an unintentional trilogy in a literary subgenre he has made all his own: historical political fiction. Using Washington, D.C., as a canvas, Mallon ingeniously weaves his plots around actual events with a cast of characters comprising both the fictional and the real. In Watergate (2012), a brooding Richard Nixon seeks the counsel of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Finale (2015), set in the lead-up to the Reagan–Gorbachev Reykjavik summit, features Christopher Hitchens, Nancy Reagan, Pamela Harriman, and its main character, a fictitious aide on the National Security Council caught up amid the burgeoning Iran-Contra scandal. Both books were highly readable, especially for junkies of American political history.
In Landfall, Mallon’s chief protagonist is Ross Weatherall, a conservative Texas academic appointed to a job compiling city heritage guides for a fictionalized amalgamation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. (Mallon himself served as deputy chairman of the latter in the George W. Bush administration). Unhappily married with children, Weatherall is dispatched to New Orleans, where he rendezvouses with a young protégée of Donald Rumsfeld’s, a staffer on the National Security Council named Allison Williams, the sort of hard-charging, career-driven female defense policymaker-cum-operative who has become ubiquitous in Washington over the past two decades. Over the course of the novel, their lives intertwine with that of Bush and are forever upended by the two unexpected cataclysms of his presidency: Katrina and the Iraq War.