May 31, 2010

American Wife

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

My rating: 4 stars

Overview from back cover: A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the carismatic son of a powerful Repulican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. And when her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers that she is married to a mna she both loves and fundamentally disagrees iwth - and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband's presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.

I really liked this book. The picture shows all the post-its I used to mark things in the book, so I obviously have a lot to say! There isn't anything that's a huge spoiler, but I will mention things that happen, so if you don't want to know anything about the story you may not want to read this.

This book is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush and I think the author did a good job with weaving a fictional story around some things based in truth. Sittenfeld's writing is awesome. There were times when I hated Alice and Charlie, but I always wanted to keep reading. Plus it was full of quotes that make you think. Here are a few of my favorites:

" a person who entertains us, there is much we forgive." (pg 12)

"People recognized you or they didn't, and it was unrelated to knowing you. Knowing you could just be your name or the street you lived on, your father's job. Recognizing you was understanding you had thoughts in your head, finding the same things funny or excruciating, remembering what you'd said months or even years after you said it." (pg 66)

"It is what we most desire that we're afraid to count on; it's always so much easier to believe in an eventuality you'd rather avoid." (pg 444)

It drove me nuts that Alice was so passive. As much as I would like to blame a lot of the problems in Alice and Charlie's marriage on him, she's half the problem because she never.communicates.anything. After her grandmother's funeral, Charlie tells Alice he has to leave early for a "major work thing" he can't tell her about, and then ends up having her leave early as well so he can get to his meeting. (He needs her to watch their daughter). I wanted to smack them both. Him for not respecting his wife enough to be with her in that time, and her for not standing up and saying "this is not okay."

Later, at his Princeton reunion, she finds out he does a line of cocaine, she kisses someone else (without his knowledge), and instead of talking about anything he initiates sex and she gives in because she thinks it'll be easier than talking.

However, one of the most significant lines of the novel for me is on page 204: "I made a choice: I chose our relationship over my political convictions, love over ideology."

I was amazed at this because it's not something I could do. I'm not huge into the political scene, but what I believe goes hand in hand with how I live my life, and I don't think I could be with someone and ignore something like that. Obviously this was a choice Alice made, but do you think it's a sacrifice strictly on her part or does it affect Charlie as well?

Legacy was something that was talked about in the story as well. From early on, Charlie seemed to be in search of what he would leave as his legacy. Alice at first doesn't see the point, but I think slowly becomes less irritated by the idea.

"I have never, ever heard a woman muse on her legacy, and I certainly have never heard a woman panic about it. I once, in the most delicate matter possible, expressed this observation about gender to Charlie, and he said, 'It's because you're the ones who give birth.' I did not find this answer satisfying." (pg 269)

She may not have found that answer satisfying, but it sure made me think!

The only real complaint I have about the story is that I felt like it jumped into him being president. I know during the whole story it's going to wind up there (it even opens up with that situation), but the couple being in the White House was only the last 120 pages and the reader didn't see any of the campaign trail. I would have liked to see how the couple got into the White House.

There's a lot more I could say about this book but I feel like this review is all over the place enough as it is, so I'll wrap it up here. Have you read this book? What did you think? Was it as much of a page-turner for you as it was for me?

What do you think about Alice and Charlie's relationship? Do you ever think about your legacy? And what about the continuous torch she carries for Andrew - do you think she was every truly happy in her marriage? And last but not least, does this make you want to read more (nonfiction) about Laura Bush?


Diana Mieczan said...

That book sound very interesting and I will definitely save the title for my reading list! I adore the post so much!
Kisses my lovely

Mandy said...

I read this book when it first came out and really loved it. It struck me that she chose love over her political beliefs as well. I would probably do the same thing, I don't have to be with someone who agrees with my political line of thinking but I do need to be with someone who respects my opinions.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Great review!!! I loved this book, as you know. 2 of my 3 significant boyfriends have held opposite political views. I wouldn't say it was ideal, but we were usually able to respectfully discuss the issues. So I wouldn't rule out a person from the opposite political party, but it would be so much EASIER if we both had similar beliefs!

Now for your questions. I do think they had a wonderful, unique relationship. Yes, I was annoyed w/ Charlie at times, and I think it would be tough to ignore your political differences when you were so in the spotlight, but I thought they had a special connection.

I do not think about my legacy. I think that is more of a man thing....

I do think she was happy in the relationship. I think it was frustrating at times, but I think things will improve when they aren't in the limelight. And maybe the situation in the end w/ the colonel opened the door for her to share her opinion more often in the future?

And yes, I definitely want to read more non-fiction about Laura so I can see how much is truth & how much is fiction. I know the car accident happened, but beyond that I am not sure how much is the truth.

Did you know that Hillary Clinton was a republic before she met Bill? I read that in her book, Living History, and was shocked. She obviously has become a true Dem, but I wonder how many other first wives didn't share their husbands political beliefs...

Amber said...

I am TRYING to find this book at my local library but all they have is the audio version. Grr! I'm dying to read it after hearing everyones reviews!!

Amy --- Just A Titch said...

I've been dying to read this book and your review just make me want to read it even more!

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I think she martyrs herself when in reality if she would just stand up for herself now and then people wouldn't much bat an eye!

I think some of my favorite parts of the book were when she was visiting the Blackwell's family compound and when pretty much any mention of her grandma.. ;)

Lexilooo said...

I read this when it first came out, so it's been a while now, but I enjoyed it and think I may re-read it! I do remember being especially annoyed with him, much more so than her, for some reason!

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