Professor Thomas Mallon was recently featured on “The Writer’s Almanac:”
Today is the birthday of the man who said, “I am the worst prognosticator imaginable, and it’s a good thing I write about the past instead of the future.” That’s novelist and essayist Thomas Mallon (books by this author), born in Glen Cove, New York (1951). He’s written nine novels, all involving historical events, including Dewey Defeats Truman (1996) and Fellow Travelers (2007), about a gay romance during the McCarthy era; he’s also written several books of nonfiction, including Mrs. Paine’s Garage (2002), about the woman who housed Lee Harvey Oswald in the weeks leading up to his assassination of President Kennedy. In addition, he has contributed essays and columns to magazines like GQ, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s.
His most recent novel just came out this fall. It’s called Finale, and is set in 1986, in the Reagan White House. The New York Times calls it his “most audacious and important work yet.” Mallon, who describes his political bent as “libertarian Republican,” said: “I wanted to present Reagan as a consequential figure who had accomplished some things that were admirable. But I certainly don’t present him as a heroic figure. I think that anybody who picks this book up because they think that this is going to be a heroic and fully admiring view of Reagan is going to be disappointed and annoyed. But I would say my job as a novelist is first to tell a good story if I can and to try to entertain and to try to see things from as many angles as possible.”
In his essay “The Historical Novelist’s Burden of Truth” (1998), he speculated about the popularity of historical fiction: “The cyber and fiber-optic revolutions have made every person and place on the present-day globe absurdly and instantly accessible to every other person and place. We are, more than we yet realize, becoming sick of one another. The past is the only place to which we can get away, and if I had one prediction for the millennium it would be that all of us, including novelists, shall be spending a lot of time — more than ever before — looking backward.”
Mallon is at work on two more historical novels: one about Fort Sumter, and the other about the presidency of George W. Bush.