Recently I went to my local Half Price Books and picked up a copy of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld via a recommendation by Rachel over at In No Simple Language.
This book was really interesting! I am a bit of a modern presidential history fanatic so I love to read presidential biographies and I REALLY love biographies about first ladies. I have read a great deal of books on the Bush family, and politics aside I find them fascinating (as you may have guessed by my many tweets when Laura Bush appeared on Oprah recently). I was really surprised that I had not heard of this book before...but it came out while I was living in my little law school hole so that explains that.
This book is self described as a "work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady." i.e. Laura Bush. Essentially, Sittenfeld uses what we know about the life of the notoriously private Laura Bush and then fills the gaps with salacious bits of fiction that makes the book not only a page turner, but also makes you wonder...
Throughout this book I kept giggling to myself because in many ways you could tell it was written by a man who was so desperately trying to invade a woman's psyche.* While overall Sittenfeld did a very good job writing from the perspective of a woman, there were some moments where I thought to myself "only a man would think a woman would ever have that kind of a thought." It was a also a little crude, like only a man could write. Especially when it came to all of Charlie's jokes. Only a man could create the character of Charlie and think for one minute that a women like Alice would find him endearing (obviously, I thought the character of Charlie vs. George Bush was a little misplaced). Definitely a man's fictitious dream.
The only part of the book that I really did not like was the scene with Pete Imhof. However, I must admit it is often hard for me to separate whether I don't like a particularly graphic part of a book due to the mere graphic nature of the scene or because I think that the content was misplaced. I don't know that I thought the content of the scene was misplaced in this book, as it did create a drama that ran through the book very well, I just really hated the scene in part because I did not see it coming.
What I did like about the book was that it provides a unique and unfiltered perspective regarding what it would feel like to the wife of George Bush (although, as stated above, I felt like the character of "Charlie" was a little manipulated by a liberal author with a bit of an agenda). I love the middle, where Alice and Charlie fall in love. I really enjoyed the character of Alice and thought her character development was done very well. Only the last hundred pages or so deals with the actual "White House years," but it was a new perspective to see the White House from the view of the first lady that wasn't funneled through the administration to determine whether it was "on message." While it was a work of fiction, we do know that a great deal of first ladies have disagreed with their husbands on major policy issues but rarely ever do they ever speak out about it. This book, despite its fictitious nature, gave us a view inside the mind of a woman who might completely disagree with her husband's political ideology but is forced to keep it to herself because he is the president of the United States. That for me this was a unique insight and one I enjoyed very much.
Now I mentioned in the beginning that I am a huge lover of political biographies...so it shouldn't be surprising that my next book that I am excited to embark into is Spoken From The Heart by Laura Bush herself. This is particularly difficult for me because I have been ANXIOUSLY anticipating the release of Emily Giffin's fourth book Heart of the Matter which comes out tomorrow but I feel like it would be fun to read Laura's book right after American Wife to see how they compare.
Has anybody else read American Wife? What did you think?
*I have just been informed that Curtis Sittenfeld is a woman. Well then, I think she writes like a man.
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