American Wife

American Wife

Book - 2008
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On what might become one of the most significant days in her husband's presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led her to the White House--and the repercussions of a life lived, as she puts it, "almost in opposition to itself." A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice learned the virtues of politeness early on from her stolid parents and small Wisconsin hometown. But a tragic accident when she was seventeen shattered her identity and made her understand the fragility of life and the tenuousness of luck. So more than a decade later, when she met boisterous, charismatic Charlie Blackwell, she hardly gave him a second look: She was serious and thoughtful, and he would rather crack a joke than offer a real insight; he was the wealthy son of a bastion family of the Republican party, and she was a school librarian and registered Democrat. Comfortable in her quiet and unassuming life, she felt inured to his charms. And then ...
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2008
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781400064755
1400064759
Branch Call Number: FIC Sitt
Characteristics: 558 p.

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m
mpye
May 14, 2018

This book started really well with Alice’s childhood and especially her teens. It began to stall when describing the disillusion of her twenties. Then just when we were ready to switch back to high gear she promptly gets married and loses an independent voice altogether. In the final stages when she is the First Lady, she has virtually no influence at all, a fact she bemoans but is entirely responsible for.
I suppose the title should have told me everything I needed to know but I spent most of this book frustrated by Alice’s chameleon personality and lack of action. I was so hoping she would actually DO something and develop a true identity. When an attempt is made to “blackmail” her over a teenage abortion, I wanted the 104-year old blackmailer to succeed. Someone at least has the courage of her convictions. I can’t believe this lack of sympathy with Alice was the author’s intent.
I kept having to confirm that Alice’s adult life was indeed led in the last part of the 20th and early part of the 21st century. It seemed as though the ideals she lived by were more typical of the 1940’s or 50’s. Apart from the dramatic global changes in the status of women, Alice’s life after about thirty seems largely unaffected by growing up with the strong female role model of her lesbian grandmother
Take, for example, her compliance regarding her husband’s politics, her willingness to give up her job on marriage and her acceptance of Charlie’s truly awful family when he seems quite reluctant to accept hers.
There are moments of high drama such as in Alice’s teens but at other times the book plods along describing some very ordinary activities. Her social life after marriage is about as insular and uninteresting as one can imagine, consisting exclusively of wealthy, Ivy League, white, two parent families, many of whom are related. She spends several pages describing a face lift.
At times the book is just plain unrealistic. When Alice finally takes a break from her marriage, we breathe a sigh of relief it took so long. However, the separation only lasts three weeks. In that time Charlie stops drinking, starts running and finds religion. Yet later in the book we are clearly told that a few days are not enough time for an individual to make major changes. In addition, according to Alice drinking is only one of his faults but we never hear how, or if, the other ones were addressed
There is no narrative dealing with how Charlie becomes President, just some flashbacks. It all feels rather implausible given that he has virtually no political background or business success (perhaps I am wrong and this combination was in fact ahead of its time).
Shortly before his political career takes off, Charlie seems to be portrayed as something of a failure, most notably by his mother. By his own admission he is searching for a legacy his contemporaries have embraced years beforehand. Are we supposed to attribute his meteoric rise to his new-found fundamentalism?
It is a curiously limiting choice to tie the book so closely to the events of the Bush administration. If Curtis had instead imagined a presidency she could have filled her canvas with a far more interesting story and created a meaningful work of fiction.
Is this book based on the true story of Laura Bush? I don’t know the answer to that but if Curtis had wanted to write a biography, I don’t know why she would have written a novel instead. In any case I don’t think it matters, a biography still has to explain adequately why people act the way they do. The lack of an adequate explanation for Alice’s passivity and compliance is my fundamental issue with this very average book.

m
MiRiAm12345
Sep 12, 2017

I listened to this book on CD and really enjoyed it...until the very last chapter. I understand that this work of fiction was based on or loosely based on the life of Laura Bush. Alice Lindgren is the protagonist who is Sittenfeld's Laura stand in. The author establishes that Alice is an intelligent, thoughtful, modest and worldly lady who married beneath herself (this final phrase actually the words of her mother-in-law, the "Barbara Bush" character). Charlie Blackwell is the George W Bush character. He is portrayed as irresponsible, ambitious, fun, appealing and essentially shallow and wrongheaded. Their marriage is loving and dynamic. At lot of time is spent dealing with Alice's teen years and the earlier years of their marriage. No explanation is given how Charlie goes from being a baseball executive to President of the USA. This was an odd omission and left a hole in the flow of the story. In the last section of the book the focus is on one fateful day during Charlie’s presidency where the author makes no bones about her emphasis on Alice’s humanity over Charlie's "foolish"' polices. (SPOILER ALERT-)Final emphasis in the book is on Alice sharing with the reader that she never voted for her husband, thinking his opponent to be the better and more experienced candidate. So by creating a "fictional" account of the marriage of Laura and George W., Sittenfeld is freely able to drive home her political agenda quite insidiously and emphatically. I wonder what Laura Bush thought about this novel.

tealdawg Jun 16, 2013

Sittenfeld continually writes about seemingly weak women who aspire to be stronger. She's a gifted writer but I wish she'd paint women in a less demeaning way. She writes as though she lived through women's lib... but face it... she hasn't a clue.

mrsgail5756 Apr 10, 2013

A very good read. I enjoyed this book. I would recommend this book for all to read.

h
helenhag1217
Jul 11, 2012

Didn't care for this book. Writing felt stilted - or maybe that is just cadence of character. The "wife" of the title is so passive, I wanted to slap her & yell at her the "wake up!"

c
ColAlbers
Nov 27, 2011

Curtis Sittenfield is a talented writer and very creative in her take on Laura Bush's life. I rated this book 3 and 1/2 stars for several reasons. One I thought Sittenfield did an excellent job creating vivid character story lines. However she seemed to let her descriptions go on and on. The book could have been cut at least hundred pages. The book was divided into four parts and this were the only chapter breaks. I found this tiring and often kept skimming to see how much I had left. My favorite part of the book was how Sittenfield included dozens of book titles from the different time periods of the protagonist's life. I am interested to read some of the books. I am sorry to say I had only read a couple. Over all I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.

ksoles May 19, 2011

My first read of 2010 was the latest novel by one of my favourite authors, Curtis Sittenfeld (of Prep and The Man of My Dreams). American Wife, which is based on the life of Laura Bush, represents a bit of a departure from Sittenfeld's usual style but still contains the elements of talented authorship: developed and personable characters, vividly descriptive settings and an intriguing plot.

Sittenfeld divides her novel into four sections: The protagonist, Alice, as a child-come-teenager whose life changes after a heart-breaking tragedy; Alice as a working, single woman who eventually meets the goofy but charming Charlie Blackwell; Alice as a stay-at-home mom frustrated by her husband's childishness and his alcoholism; and, finally, Alice as a reluctant First Lady in the throes of war in the Middle East.

I enjoyed the first two sections every bit as much as Sittenfeld's other works but I found the second half of the book disappointing. Old memories keep recurring and past hurts are rehashed; the narrative becomes "skimable" and it feels like the author is simply trying to fill space. I did appreciate the perspective on the "Blackwell" (read: Bush) government, though, as Alice, a registered Democrat, provides interesting insight on an administration in which she struggles to believe.

l
LyndsayM
Dec 31, 2010

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down.

The book is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush with a great storyline.

I highly recommend this book and will likely read it again in the future!

Quotes

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mrsgail5756 Apr 11, 2013

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr

mrsgail5756 Apr 10, 2013

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” -Winston Churchill

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h
helenhag1217
Jul 11, 2012

helenhag1217 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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h
helenhag1217
Jul 11, 2012

Fictionalized story of Laura Bush. Spans her life in a small town, through her marriage to tthe man who would be president of the United States.

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