The first time I was here was with Eisenhower in 1953. He was a different kind of man than you find now, the last president born in the nineteenth century. He smelled different. Up close you could see the seams where he had been sewn back together, a clumsy job by some Kansas doctor. He and I used to sit up nights in here listening to the crickets on the lawn. Just talking, drinking, and waiting for whatever call was coming.
Comic horror novel, written by Austin Grossman and published in 2015.
So... Richard Nixon. Richard Milhous Nixon. Tricky Dick Nixon. Thirty-seventh president of the United States of America. Political mastermind. Foreign policy expert. Carried a whopping 49 states in the 1972 election.
What the fuck went wrong with that guy? Uncontrollable lust for power? Misled by unethical conspirators? Political dirty tricks gone wild?
Or was he really trying to save us all from the Iron Curtain's sorcerers and the Elder Gods?
Austin Grossman, author of superhero drama "Soon I Will Be Invincible" and gaming mystery "You," put this book together as part political memoir, part espionage thriller, and part supernatural comedy of errors, with a decent dose of truly creepy and disquieting horror, usually peeking from around the corner where you weren't expecting it.
The first-person narrative lets us follow Dick Nixon from his youth on his family's lemon farm in Yorba Linda, California through the years of his presidency -- and beyond. We watch his rocky marriage to Pat, his unexpected political success, and his service on the House Un-American Activities Committee -- and at that point, the story starts to diverge from what we know of history. Frustrated with the committee's interrogation of Alger Hiss, Nixon decides to trail him and discovers his secret office, filled with strange books and cryptic notes. Flushed with success and still, frankly, pretending to be a super-spy, Nixon continues following Hiss but soon ends up in a very bad situation -- cornered by a pair of real Communist spies and forced to participate in a magical ritual. In fact, Nixon just barely avoids becoming possessed by a monstrous god from another dimension. And after that, possibly worse, Nixon finds himself an agent of the Soviet Union.
His handlers are Arkady, murderous but good-natured and friendly, and Tatiana, a beautiful, hyper-competent femme fatale. Though he keeps expecting them to either train him to be a real spy or turn him over to the CIA, they mostly treat him as an occasionally useful asset. They send him to investigate a secret military base in Pawtuxet, Massachusetts, where he sees a lot of stuff that doesn't make rational sense, including the ghost of a long-dead pilot bound by military sorcery. And very soon after that, Nixon meets the most powerful man on the face of the Earth and the book's most relentlessly terrifying character: Dwight David Eisenhower.
And though Ike makes Nixon his vice president, he knows he's a sleaze and a spy, and he doesn't trust him a bit. In fact, Nixon gets more than one taste of Eisenhower's considerable sorcerous might, just to make sure Dick knows his place. Still, Nixon is able to pay attention and learn, slowly, some of the true occult history of the United States, a land founded with a magical contract called the Constitution that grants its president great power and horrifying responsibilities. And he learns that even though Ike doesn't trust him, he recognizes his skills as a manipulator and scumbag, and he'll be groomed to take over the presidency and guide the nation safely through the Cold War.
And then disaster strikes. Ike has a stroke in the middle of a ritual and is unable to train Nixon or offer him any protection during the campaign. Nixon loses to Jack Kennedy, a man with no clue about what the responsibilities of the president really are, no idea about the magical horrors standing against him in the USSR, no inkling of what he needs to do to keep the country safe.
It will be years before Nixon will claw his way back into the Oval Office, and even then, only with the aid of the book's second most terrifying character, an immortal and inhuman sorcerer calling itself Henry Kissinger.
This book is pretty damned great. It's a fun book, dryly humorous, but not particularly scary most of the time, even considering the Lovecraftian bits that show up here and there. It's told from Nixon's perspective, but it's not a constant stream of "I'm a hero, I'm so great!" This Nixon is very well aware he's got something broken inside him. He wants to be a decent, noble, respected statesman, but his first instinct when it comes to campaigning is to be an absolute bastard.
Grossman clearly did a great deal of research into Nixon's life and times, which makes for some serious magic on the page when you see real people, real events, real locations glimpsed through the fanciful occult lens. We get to find out how the Pilgrims saved Plymouth colony, who killed Stalin, what happened during the first moon landing, where the real Oval Office is located, and what strange secrets Pat Nixon kept from her husband. It may not have actually happened, but it makes for tremendously fun fiction.
I closed the blinds, knelt down, and rolled back the carpeting to reveal the greater seal of the office, set just beneath the public one. I rolled up my left sleeve and cut twice with the dagger as prescribed, to release the blood of the Democratically Elected, the Duly Sworn and Consecrated. I began to chant in stilted, precise seventeenth-century English prose from the Twelfth and Thirteenth Secret Articles of the United States Constitution. These were not the duties of the U.S. presidency as I had once conceived of them, nor as most of the citizens of this country still do. But really. Ask yourself if everything in your life is the way they told you it would be.