Saturday, October 10, 2009

American Wife

Last month I read American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfield (a woman) with my a couple of friends from college. We concocted the idea to have a virtual book group and it was our first success!
The book is a novel, but loosely (and not so loosely in places) follows the life of Former First Lady Laura Bush. Certain liberties are taken, naturally, but most of the major life events are present.

It is the story of Alice Lindgren Blackwell. She is an only child who must endure a series of unspeakable tragedies early in life. Later, she meets Charlie Blackwell, the youngest son of a prominent political family, and they wed after a whirlwind romance.

The story is written in four blocks, identified by her addresses. First her childhood home, then her apartment as a single thirty-something, next the home she shares with Charlie and their daughter in the suburbs, and finally, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A series of flashbacks fills in the gaps between those locations, but a large number of years passes between each installment.
I enjoyed the book. I more or less knew what was going to happen (or so I thought), because I was vaguely familiar with the events of Laura Bush's life, but it was still shocking in parts. The writing was powerful, and the characterization vivid. I found myself with much more sympathy and interest for real-life political figures that I never previously care for after reading this book. I feel like I know Laura Bush better after reading this book, although that's probably a false impression. I am dying to know if she's read it, and what her reaction is. Although it shares raw moments and emotions, overall, I think it portrays Alice in a very positive, yet honest, light.

Our online chat about American Wife was delightful! The discussion covered a number of topics and included a little friendly disagreement. My fellow readers helped me to see how much this book is about relationships. Friendships, marriages, siblings, parents and children...they are all in this novel, and they are all complicated. We also had an interesting conversation about whether or not Charlie would have ascended to such high political office if he had not married Alice. I'm quite certain he wouldn't have.

Has anyone else read this book? It's long, but reads pretty fast, and I would definitely recommend it. As a work of fiction, it is entertaining and thought-provoking. However, it's link to reality makes it all the more fascinating. Katie, please share your thoughts if you like!!


WhimsAndInconsistencies said...

Why certainly I will share my thoughts! :)

I've been a slacker reader for the past couple years (Which makes me very sad, I'm working on it.) and read this in 3 days. I would come home from work and read until I absolutely had to go to bed. I was possessed. I don't know why, exactly, it's not like a mystery thriller, but I just became enchanted with Alice and had to know how it all turned out.

My big concern going into the book was that I'm a little more conservative than liberal. Bush isn't the greatest president by any means and I'm glad he's out of office now, but I didn't want to read a book that would just tear him to shreds because I think he's better than that. And most of all, I have always really liked Laura and thought she was a total class act, so I didn't want to see her dragged through the mud either. But it didn't. I think it represented them both as good, kind-hearted people, who did the best they could in impossible situations where very little is black and white.

Caitlin said...

Thanks McB! I definitely agree with your assessment of their portrayal. I think you'll feel the same about the "potato book" once you get into it. It takes a little bit to get familiar with the format and style, but once you do, it is fantastic! Can't wait for you to read it!!!