Sometimes, I have a book that I’m anxious to read and it just sits on my “to read” list for ages. American Wife (affiliate) by Curtis Sittenfeld was one such book.
The book, a fictionalized tale loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, takes an inside look at the life of a woman who rises to power through the role of First Lady. Throughout the book, we look at the life of the central character, Alice Lindgren, through four stages of her life: as a teenager, a college graduate establishing her life and starting her career (when she first meets Charlie Blackwell), their married life as they struggle through Charlie’s desire to leave a legacy and raise their daughter, and their life in the White House in a post-9/11 world after Charlie is elected President of the United States. We first meet Alice as a young 17 year-old woman and journey throughout her adult life until the last pages when she is 61.
The core of the novel takes place in various locales around Wisconsin, portraying Alice’s life as an intelligent, book loving, Democrat. Alice is a balace to Charlie, an affable, fun-loving, easy-going Republican. Their polar opposite personalities both attract and repel at various points in their journey.
Early on, and then throughout the book, Alice faces tragedy at many levels, starting with the death of a friend at a young age. Andrew’s untimely death ultimately haunts Alice for years to come as she struggles with the aftermath that followed. She must not only face her personal demons, but publicly acknowledge the events as her husband rises within the Republican party.
The book provided insight into the lives of a political family without going too deep into any real politics; doing so, I think, would have largely turned many readers away.
The first three sections of American Wife were the most compelling for me. It provided background on the lives of not only the characters of the book, but left me wondering how true to life Sittenfeld stayed in line with the lives of George and Laura Bush. This was, however, one downfall to the book as a whole; I had a very hard time separating these fictional characters from their real-life counterparts.
Ultimately, Sittenfeld created an engaging, honest portrayal into the life of a woman who would, somewhat to her chagrin, in time become the First Lady, first of the state of Wisconsin and later of the United States.
Which First Lady would you like to learn more about? Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt both fascinate me.