In what is ultimately a somewhat pointless and disappointing novel, Mark Maxwell’s NIXONCARVER starts with the interesting idea of an imaginary meeting between former President Richard Nixon and American author Raymond Carver. Right from the start, however, Maxwell points out that his characters “are entirely fictional,” and have nothing to do with the real persons of those names.
NIXONCARVER immediately shows its surreal touch when “Nixon” and “Carver” meet with the author Maxwell after each having walked some 450 miles along the West Coast. Even in his retirement, such a foot walk appears utterly out of character for the ailing historical Nixon, or the real cancer-plagued Carver.
Once the two meet Maxwell, the novel continues to disappoint. His characters engage in trivial conversations while playing poker and fly-fishing with the author, or cleaning out Nixon’s garage. Their talk is full of scatological and profane expressions, hardly ever bringing them to life.
Maxwell intersperses these banal encounters with his characters with many chapters chronicling their imagined boyhood and adolescence. Here NIXONCARVER delights in following the boy Nixon to his outhouse, or reflecting on the quality of his excrement.
In the end, the reader may wonder why the author chose to give his viciously drawn characters the names of real people. With his persistent disclaimer that NIXONCARVER is entirely fictional, the novel yields nothing for a historically-minded reader. What it offers is the occasional trip to the outhouse and puerile drinking binges, which are not necessarily fascinating.