American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld

I have nearly finished American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.  I was drawn to this book by a raft of reviews from appalled American readers. The reason for their horror was that this book is loosely based on the life of First Lady Laura Bush.  As one comment on a blog said: ‘I just have a problem with imagining Dubya having sex. I need a shower now. I feel soiled’.

I coped with the sex (and there’s a bit of it), enjoyed the fact that Alice (aka Laura) had a love of books and was a great librarian, and have generally been taken along by a good rollicking story of a marriage.  Alice Blackwell is a really interesting character.  She is described by Sittenfeld as a Democrat, pro-abortion, contentedly unmarried at 31, and harbourer of many liberal opinions.  By falling in love with Charlie Blackwell, (aka George Dubya Bush) she consciously decides that she can live with herself if she puts aside some of her beliefs, and marry a man and who is an uninhibited good guy, someone who loves her to bits, is the life and soul of the party (and heavy drinker) and whom she suspects may not be a lover of great literature, but has a kind heart.

Sittenfeld has been accused by Republicans for using publicity around Laura Bush as a way of garnering interest in her book, and by the Democrats for making excuses for Laura Bush’s perceived passivity. Surprisingly, Laura Bush proves to be an excellent model for what turns out to be a gripping story, and Sittenfeld has stated publically, that although she loathes George Bush, she admires his wife:

Laura Bush is a true role model. She’s smart and curious about the world. She’s sincere and down-to-earth and compassionate. She’s both confident and modest, she knows who she is, and she doesn’t try to prove anything. I suspect the reason so many people I know believe her to be fake is that she doesn’t aggressively demonstrate her authenticity.

Thankfully we are spared political rhetoric as the book concentrates mainly on Aice’s early life, including her responsbility for a fatal car crash that left a school friend dead.  Laura Bush understandably refuses to comment about the accident, but Sittenfeld is able to summise on what must have been a devastating experience.  She also has a lot of fun imagining the extended Blackwell family clan, inherited wealth, Republicanism, and life on the other side of the tracks.

2 thoughts on “American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld

  1. Erin 5 November 2008 / 5:12 pm

    Sittenfeld’s first book, Prep, was one of my favourites in recent years. A really moving picture of teenage angst, with a strong social commentary. Her second was a disappointment. I haven’t got round to starting American Wife yet, but I have skimmed through a few pages, and I have to say I blushed at the sex. But yay for books with librarians in them.

  2. Jane 12 November 2008 / 12:03 pm

    I wonder what Laura Bush had to say to Michelle Obama when showing her round the White House – watch the shower, it’s bit dodgy with the hot tap, mind the stairs, there’s a loose bit of carpet on the one third from the top….Having read this book it is interesting to think about what goes on behind the scenes for these normal people living abnormal lives.

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