THE LAST OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
By Bob Woodward. (Simon & Schuster, 291 pages, $28.)
The title suggests that with this book, "our long national nightmare" (in Gerald Ford's words) finally is over. We've heard this before, of course, most notably in 2005, when Mark Felt owned up to being Deep Throat, the secret source for Woodward in his and Carl Bernstein's reporting on the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. But this may be it. And it's a fitting conclusion, revisiting the role of Alexander Butterfield. He was the Nixon aide who revealed the secret taping system in the White House that the ever paranoid Nixon ordered installed in an effort to encase his presidency in aural amber.
Butterfield, who knew nothing of Watergate's break-in and coverup fiascos, comes across as a conflicted and, frankly, hypocritical man. He found Nixon to be so cold, unlikable and rude that he had every reason to walk away from the job. But that would mean leaving the White House, leaving power.
Woodward presses Butterfield hard on his motivations for divulging the Nixon tapes. But Butterfield equivocates. He'd decided that he would answer a direct question, should Watergate investigators pose one during his testimony. Someone finally did. But Butterfield confesses that he isn't sure to this day if he otherwise would have betrayed Nixon's confidence in him. Fascinating. The last 100 pages are source notes and documents, a treasure trove for Watergate junkies.
LET ME EXPLAIN YOU
By Annie Liontas. (Scribner, 344 pages, $26.)
Annie Liontas' boisterous first novel opens with an e-mail from Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, the self-absorbed patriarch of a divided family, to the women in his life.
Mavrakis, a Greek immigrant who owns diners in New Jersey, warns his daughters and ex-wife that he is near death. Then he offers them such pearls of wisdom as: "There is a way to be for the normal society, and you are not it." And, "Litza, you have problems." Between the critiques and unsought advice, he sandwiches references to himself as generous and successful mentor.
As the daughters grapple with their father's warning about his coming death — and his subsequent disappearance — they re-examine their relationship with him and one another. The painful past and absorbing realities that have driven the family apart are slowly unveiled.
The characters, from brash Mavrakis to the memorable strong chef Marina, are crafted with loving familiarity. In the author's note, Liontas says they are inspired by, and resemble, her family members and friends.
And while the characters struggle with addiction, loneliness and infidelity, their stories are filled with comedy (the joke is often at Mavrakis' expense) and peppered with nostalgic descriptions of food. "Let Me Explain You" will leave you laughing — and a little hungry.
JESSIE VAN BERKEL,