Thursday, April 9, 2009
Curtis Sittenfeld/AMERICAN WIFE
When 31-year-old Alice Lindgren, a school librarian and a life-long democrat, meets the playful and devilish Charlie Blackwell, the son of the former Republican governor of their native Wisconsin, she never imagines she'll end up marrying him. She certainly never imagines that in thirty years she will be the First Lady. In this thinly veiled (really, not veiled at all) roman a clef of former First Lady Laura Bush, Curtis Sittenfeld offers a sympathizing portrayal of a mid-Western woman who did her best, and who is trying to justify her choices.
This is quite an absorbing read, perhaps especially for Americans (but hey, maybe not). The novel without its flaws--for one, it's mammoth, and despite its nearly 600 pages, it only covers 4 pockets in Alice Lindgren Blackwell's life--high school, when she accidentally kills her crush in a car accident, and the events that follow; the bbq where Alice meets Charlie, and the events that follow; a series of episodes when her daughter is nine; and a series of episodes at the end of her husband's second term, in 2006. I can't decide if I think the content was well-chosen, or if there was too much, or if I wish there was more. In fact, coming out of the book, I don't know anything except that I really, really like Laura Bush (despite the fact that I know nothing about her).
Alice (the character) asks herself in different ways over the course of the novel if she has made mistakes. Her major mistakes are staying by her dissolute husband while he reforms--if she'd abandoned him, or not forced him to clean up, he never would have been a serious presidential candidate--and for not being vocal enough about her own beliefs, for pointedly abstaining from political involvement with her husband and only being a "wife" to him.
Ultimately, I think the book is a success--I couldn't stop reading it, and I feel like I learned a lot (although really I learned fiction).