Thursday, July 30, 2009

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (Jill's review)

American Wife
By Curtis Sittenfeld
Completed July 30, 2009

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is, according to the author, 15 percent based on the life of former First Lady Laura Bush. I feel obligated to express that I am not a fan of George W. Bush’s presidency, and the quiet, submissive nature of the First Lady also bothered me. So, with this bias, I approached American Wife with much hesitation.

The story is told from the perspective of Alice Lundgren, a bookish Wisconsin teenager, who later married the boisterous Charlie Blackwell. Alice came off as intelligent, articulate and guilt-ridden throughout most of the story. She was plagued by a car accident from her teenage years, where she killed her love interest on the way to a high school party. Later, she was guilty about stealing her friend’s love interest (Charlie), Charlie’s drinking and drug use, the Blackwell family’s enormous wealth and the thousands of deaths resulting from the war that marked her husband’s administration. Sometimes, Alice acted upon her guilt and tried to make up for these situations; while other times, she kept her mouth shut.

Alice was very human, and her marriage to Charlie was quite realistic – a series of compromises and confrontations that made them a strong couple. Charlie was charismatic but needed the support of others to make decisions. He came across as rude and insulting at times, but when Alice dug her heels in (which was rare), he did concede without issue.

I will not venture to guess how accurately Sittenfeld’s characters depicted their real-life counterparts, but it did make for an interesting story. At times, American Wife was bogged down with too many details, and I wish Sittenfeld spent more time showing Alice as the governor and president’s wife. We learned so much about Alice through her younger years – I almost felt cheated not learning more about her in such public roles.

We will never know what made First Lady Laura Bush tick, but this book, if nothing else, reminds readers that we only see what the media and public relations people want you to see. Sometimes appearances are different than actuality. ( )

1 comment:

geemags said...

I am a Brit born and bred but have a son who after 20 years in America holds a US passport. I adore the US and visit annually but this book does not do you US citizens any favours. It upholds the belief that You think You are always right.
Look around, you aren't - no more than Brits do you have the right to enforce your ideologies on to the rest of the world.
How dare Alice (Laura?) excuse her smug self-opionated lifestyle and pardon her own moral failings in not daring to live up to her conscience? Because she loved this man?! For heaven's sake, would she have accepted Charlie if she thought he was gullty of a single rape, a single murder? Yes, it seems she probably would. How sad a reflection is that on morals!
I have often often wondered if power corrupts or power attracts the pre-corrupted. I think this book goes a way to answering my query.
Shame on all you Americans who think this woman is the ideal wife. Frankly, the education (and upbringing) she has been party to have made her as much a puppet as the oppressed women of Afghanistan - but far, far more smug because she doesn't see why she should question her behaviour.