Saturday, March 21, 2009

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

From Amazon: A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. And when her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers that she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with–and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband’s presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.

I really love Curtis Sittenfeld's writing. I was a big fan of Prep, her first novel, which I read years ago, and I just loved The Man of My Dreams, which I read after American Wife but chronologically comes before it. I wanted to read this partly because of my love for Prep and also because Entertainment Weekly named it one of the ten best books of 2008 (and I am a sucker for 'best of' lists). I ended up reading it in mostly one day once I finally got my hands on it (there were a lot of hold requests at the library).

The character of Alice Blackwell, Sittenfeld's fictional Laura Bush, is easily interesting enough to be the main character of a novel, mostly because she hasn't really seen herself as the main character in her own life. My favourite parts were the first sections of the novel; the last one, set during Alice's husband's presidency in the mid-2000s, just felt like I was reading about Laura Bush. I don't think enough space has passed to read about a post-9/11 president in the 2000s without it being George W. Bush and his wife being Laura Bush. But up until then I was pretty much on board with the whole novel.

One criticism I've seen of the book is that it humanizes the Bushes, George W. in particular. I'm not sure why people are so resistent to this; maybe if you have to stop thinking about him as a monster, you have to start wondering about him as a person. Anyway, American Wife is a thick book but an interesting one in terms of fictionalized American (recent) history.

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