Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jen's Book Review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

 American Wife: A Novel (New York Times Notable Books)

American Wife follows the life of Alice Blackwell as she grows up in Wisconsin where she lives with her parents and her grandmother. Alice leads a pretty quiet life until one evening when she is driving alone to a party to which she has been invited by her crush, Andrew. The tragic accident that night will forever change and shape her life. Several years later she is at a party with her best friend and meets Charlie Blackwell, son of a wealthy family. Charlie and Alice are complete opposites. Charlie is careless and comes from a family that is involved in the Republican party, while Alice tends to be more serious and is a registered Democrat, but somehow they click. Alice tolerates their differences, both in lifestyle and politics, and manages to fit in with his family, but it's Charlie's terms as President that wear Alice down. Alice struggles with her personal beliefs which contradict her husband's political beliefs.

This is Sittenfeld's third book and is by far the most dynamic. Throughout her life Alice has conflicts between public and private life. After her car accident, she struggles with how to act, worrying about how other people view her, not knowing what to keep to herself or what to voice to others. Her inner struggle magnifies to a national level when she is First Lady. Alice's personal and political beliefs are more liberal than her husband's, but she must hide her true feelings and put on a veil of support for his decisions. Every day she walks a fine line between her more liberal convictions and the wifely duty of supporting the husband. Sittenfeld makes Alice's struggle so realistic. She also does a great job of revealing the unglamorous life of the President and First Lady. Friends and acquaintances treat you completely different, any move made is viewed by the world, actions and words can be skewed, there's a pressure to make everyone happy, privacy is no longer, etc.
American Wife is loosely based on the life of a particular First Lady. Sittenfeld says that "her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognizable." After the first few chapters, my curiosity got me, and in my research I found that it's Laura Bush. I don't know much about Laura's background, but this book definitely has me interested in reading more about her life. As I was reading, I couldn't help but wonder how Laura would feel about this book.

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