Saturday, July 18, 2009

BOOK: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

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.

16 comments:

Cass said...

I can't wait to read this book! Thanks for the review.

Jill said...

I was only mildly interested in this book until your review! Hmm, it may be the next one up after I finish Fingersmith. Great review!

Jill =)

Literary Feline said...

I remember when this first came out and everyone seemed to be reading it. I admit that the political slant to it is what keeps me away, but it is tempting as so many people have enjoyed it. I am glad to see you did too. :-)

Katie Edwards said...

This is the next book on my to-read list, so it's interesting to see what someone else thinks of it.

Staci said...

I've thought about reading this. Sounds like you enjoyed it!

raidergirl3 said...

cass - I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but there is some problem. The comment box won't open up. Did you find someone to talk about The Little Stranger about? Email me, raidergirl3 at gmail dot com, if you want. I had to do that too when I was done.

jill - it's still Orange July! lots of time left to read it.

wendycat - I felt it was pretty balanced - either no one will be offended, or everyone!

katie edwards - come back and comment after you finish! Isn't the cover beautiful?

staci - it was a great, easy read. It felt so current.

Jenny said...

I had no idea that's what this book was about! I've heard of it, but I had a completely different impression of the book. It must be so weird to be so much in the public eye that something like this can be written about you.

Booklogged said...

I'm not sure I would like this book. I think it's too early for a fiction book to be written about Laura Bush. I feel badly that that the American people didn't thank Bush for his 8 years of service, instead he became the scapegoat for everything that was wrong with the country. I think that's sad.

I am glad to hear that you thought it was fairly written.

Sheila said...

This sounds realy good....thanks for putting it on my radar! :)

Kailana said...

When this book first came out it didn't seem like my type of book, but reviews have made me reconsider. I will have to add it to the list!

raidergirl3 said...

jenny - She makes comments about the public aspect of her life. It's funny to read a book that was not what you thought it was about.

booklogged - He certainly became a scapegoat. I'm not sure who this is aimed for - Dems who hate Bush might not like that the book doesn't demonize him, and Repubs who are fans of the Bushes might not like the events that are imagined. It runs a real middle ground and risks offending everyone!

sheila - your welcome!

kailana - it's a great story, even without all the Bush stuff, how does a marriage last, what compromises do each side make and keep their own personality?

Stephanie said...

You know...this is the only book I DNF this year. Mostly because I didn't realize what it was about until I started. After I got into it, I realized I had no desire to read anything about the Bushes...real or fictionalized. (and reading the sex scenes just gave me the willies!! couldn't help but picture George and Laura!)

Glad you liked it though!

Margot said...

I picked this book up at a library sale not knowing it was based on the Bushes. I'm eager to read it now. Thanks for the review.

Jess said...

I read Prep by this author and it wasn't my favorite, but this book's premise sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review.

Lady Lazarus said...

This actually sounds like an interesting read. :-) Your review has only intrigued me more.

Katie Edwards said...

It is indeed a beautiful cover - unfortunately I'm in the UK and had a different one. I found it quite readable and enjoyed it, although I didn't find it that captivating. But it was thought-provoking, making you think of the First Lady as a person apart from the President and how she got to be First Lady from an ordinary person. I always think it's strange for someone to write about real, historical people because so much is conjecture, and yet there is a lot of fact in there too - how does one balance that? Even more so when the subjects are living - it takes a lot of courage to try to get inside someone's head when they are so thinly disguised. An interesting decision to make - giving the Bushes new identities, and yet recogniseably themselves, in their real-life circumstances.