American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, 555 pages
Orange July: longlist 2009
This is very hard to review without getting into politics. American Wife is a fictionalized account of Laura Bush, here known as Alice Blackwell. It has to be understood that only some very superficial facts are known and based on the real Bushes, and the rest imagines what Laura/Alice might have thought and done on the way to becoming First Lady.
I'll have to say I liked Alice, and her relationship with Charlie/George. The novel is written as if Alice Blackwell has written an autobiography, facing her actions and decisions. Charlie comes off exactly as how I saw George Bush, which is not an unlikeable guy at all, but not the smartest either, someone who knows his limits and is very personable. Alice knows her husband best of all, and learns to live her life within the context of their public life. I liked the portrayal of their marriage and the love between them. It matches what I always imagined might have been there. If you believe marriage means compromise, then that is aptly demonstrated here.
The story moves along well, divided into 4 sections - Alice living at home, Alice meeting and marrying Charlie, the substantial years of their marriage, and then the presidency. In each section, Alice faces a crisis that calls on her to make major decisions, that all have future repercussions. The major facts that are known about the Bushes are here, and how Sittenfeld builds a possible world and marriage between Alice and Charlie is very believable, and I had to keep reminding myself that the conversations and other characters were all made up.
There are some real statements here about the judgments that get made about the Bushes, and famous people in general, based on only what the public sees and what the media shows. I enjoyed the book with its faux history. I was impressed with this version of Laura Bush and with the story Sittenfeld has imagined.