I am still trying to decide if American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld was a cheap and lazy promotional gimmick or a stroke of marketing genius.
The premise, a thinly-disguised historical novel about a President's wife, is a great marketing hook. Certainly easier to market than the more honest statement: that this novel is the story of a marriage like many others, of accommodation and compromise, giving and taking, and, in the end, sticking to it and to each other for better and for worse.
No matter how it is marketed, Curtis Sittenfeld is a graceful writer with a wonderful ear for internal dialog and an eye for exquisite detail. The fact that she manages to keep the very thin plot/storyline going for over 500 pages is a remarkable feat all by itself. I suspect the book could have sold on it's own with out the marketing hype.
That said, I have to confess that about half way through the book I could not help but wonder how an intelligent, charming and self-aware woman would be willing to put up with her husband's childishness and astonishing faults. I know that love is a strange and wonderful thing, but I have a hard time figuring out how it endures in the face of such monumental selfishness and fundamental immaturity.
I would have felt better about Alice is she had been passionate about her husband, rather than accepting. And I can't help but wonder if it is possible to be THAT accepting of anyone you believe to be so fundamentally different that you.
I keep hoping that she will find a passion -- even motherhood. But instead, she sublimates her real self until she becomes a stilted and cartoonish woman. She is the President's wife with a fully managed and orchestrated life; appearances to maintain and places to be.
I read EVERY word, even the several thousand that could have easily been edited out. I kept hoping that either I would finally understand her or that she would actually break free and get her own life.
I did not particularly like the book, but I was hooked from beginning to end. And it has stayed with me over the last few days. I can't help but wonder how much of Alice is like Laura Bush.
This is an engrossing read and a great escape and a book you will continue to ponder long after you have read the final page.
Here's the official stuff:
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, much to her surprise, Alice fell for Charlie.
As Alice learns to make her way amid the clannish energy and smug confidence of the Blackwell family, navigating the strange rituals of their country club and summer estate, she remains uneasy with her newfound good fortune. And when Charlie eventually becomes President, Alice is thrust into a position she did not seek–one of power and influence, privilege and responsibility. As Charlie’s tumultuous and controversial second term in the White House wears on, Alice must face contradictions years in the making: How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona?
In Alice Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld has created her most dynamic and complex heroine yet. American Wife is a gorgeously written novel that weaves class, wealth, race, and the exigencies of fate into a brilliant tapestry–a novel in which the unexpected becomes inevitable, and the pleasures and pain of intimacy and love are laid bare.