Saturday, October 11, 2008



American Wife's central character is a first lady so conflicted that she makes Hamlet look happy and  the reader thankful that the White House is not her future residence. Written by Curtis Sittenfield, author of PREP it tells the story of Alice Lindgren a Wisconsin born and bred former school librarian, a somewhat straight laced but quietly liberal woman who bears a striking resemblance to real first lady Laura Bush. How she meets Charlie Blackwell, marries and reforms him and then scales political heights with him -something to which she never aspired is l chronicled in detail.

If you keep thinking George W. Bush as you read, well you know the "W" pretty well because like the “real president” Charlie comes from a powerful, monied family with political connections. He is known for many things but not his IQ (although he is a Princeton and Wharton B. School grad). The fictional character  is the black sheep of his family, buys a pro-baseball team, struggles with alcohol until he becomes "born again," is strongly Conservative and a Republican. to     

But Alice is the real story here. Her early years, quiet, family life, her struggle with guilt over the accidental death of her first love - a death she caused (again like the real Laura Bush).  While no one is privy to the real thoughts of another person, Sittenfield's character Alice is never far from her first love whether it is in her dreams, thoughts, or indeed how the incident and it's aftermath continue to haunt the rest of her life. 

Alice's transition from small town, middle class girl, school teacher/librarian to the country club clique with her marriage is one of the more interesting parts of this book as we see Alice change in response to her new life. Her often naïve outlook and lack of guile leave her open to Blackwell family pressures and her life of financial privilege is not always what it seems to those around her.

It is fascinating and does make the reader wonder how accurate Sittenfield might be about America’s real first lady. You’ll wonder if the truth is out there so to speak when you finish  this novel, and if it is even close you’ll appreciate Laura Bush’s grace and spirit.

This is another Sittenfield book to savor and leave you guessing.