Presidents are pretty fascinating people. I’ve only ever lived in America, so I don’t really know if other countries fetishize their leaders to the extent we do, but it seems pretty strange. We treat the forty-four men that have lead this nation like gods-among-men who are something more than the rest of us. Grand figures that become mythological. The eternal bravery of George Washington. The impeccable honor of Abraham Lincoln. The boyish sense of adventure of Theodore Roosevelt. These men have taken on larger existences than you would even imagine as time has gone on, and have become characters to be examined and re-imagined as time goes on. But there’s one president that always stands out, who doesn’t quite fit the mold. Richard Nixon. If I had to pick one president whose life and career is usually portrayed in a different light from the rest of his colleagues, it would have to be Nixon. There are obvious reasons to this, chiefly among them the fact that he’s the only president to have voluntarily resigned from Office in the light of legal woes, but there’s just something about Nixon that people love to hate. He’s basically the closest thing to a supervillain president we’ve ever had. I’m sure there have been presidents before and after Nixon that have done equally worse things, or even significantly worse things, but Nixon just seemed to have come along at the right time to make him some sort of historical villain. Which probably explains why most portrayals of Nixon don’t tend to cast him in a favorable light, most tending to skew somewhere closer to Futurama’s take on the man. But, since for whatever reason, we love to cast our leaders in fictitious adventures and stories, and Nixon is not immune to that. I’ve actually already talked on the site about a novel that took a real-life president and sent him on a ridiculous adventure, Taft in that case, and as luck would have it I’ve stumbled upon a rather bizarre novel that pretends to hold the truth about the administration of possibly the most reviled United State’s president of all time, and his personal war with the forces of black magic, Richard Milhous Nixon.
The premise of Crooked is that its the secret memoirs of the 37th President of the United States, letting us in on the true goings on in his administration. The novel more or less traces Nixon’s rise and fall, seemingly accurately, just with some ridiculous magic thrown in. We see Nixon rise from the son of inefficient lemon-farmers into a more or less accidental politician, before being thrown onto the national stage when he begins aggressively going after the threat of Communism in the late 1940’s to gain a name for himself. But while investigating the Communist threat posed by Alger Hiss, Nixon ends up getting blackmailed by two Soviet spies who end up bringing the politician to their side to spy on the US Government. But it’s not Cold War secrets that they’re after, it’s magical ones. Apparently the United States, and most other countries of the world, have been embroiled in magical wars for centuries, and there’s a sort of Black Magic Gap going on between the two superpowers. In the course of investigating the United State’s magical powers for the Russians, Nixon ends up being put in positions of power, becoming Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President and learning the truth about the American presidency, and the role of chief sorcerer that that entails. And after some trials and tribulations, and the introduction to a millennia-old Bavarian sorcerer named Henry Kissinger, Nixon fulfills his life’s goal and become President of the United States, and takes on that magical burden that that entails. He discovers secret teaching, magical artifacts, and wages war against the Russian magical elite, culminating in the destruction of some Democrat magicians who were trying to make a deal with a literal demon, which was misconstrued as the Watergate scandal.
Let me make this very clear. This is a monumentally silly book. But I had a pretty great time with it. I’ve recently been getting into the delightful podcast Last Podcast on the Left and one of the more fascinating topics that they broach are that of conspiracy theories. I’ve never really given those types of theories much thought, but hearing three men slowly lose their minds after deeply researching the insane beliefs of others, and then patiently explaining them to me, the layman, I’ve come to find them fascinating. And one of the most prevalent type of conspiracy seems to be that the government is doing much more than they let on, be it getting in bed with races of lizard people, having people assassinated indiscriminately, or dabbling in dark magic. So the premise of taking one of our most disastrous and misguided President’s and explaining that the reason that his administration went down such a dark path was that he was actually busy protecting us from magical threats that we’ll never learn about, was pretty great. Historical fiction is a lot of fun, and coming up with such insane explanations for historical events, like the fact that the moon-landing was faked because they actually ran into a Chthonic civilization on the moon, was pretty damned enjoyable. I read this novel with a grin more or less plastered on my face, actually feeling sympathy for this version of Richard Nixon, and loving almost every minute of it.
Crooked was written by Austin Grossman, 2015.