Review: American Wife
Title: American Wife
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Fiction; 558 pages*
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 2 Bookmarks
Though this book has been in print for a while and reviews abound, here’s my take.
American Wife is loosely based on the life of former First Lady Laura Bush. The protagonist, Alice (Lindgren) Blackwell, narrates the tome in four segments, each detailing a different era in her life. I thought that Sittenfeld’s use of street addresses to delineate the sections was clever (ie. Part IV: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).
I’m not sure if it’s my liberal side shining through, but I was really enjoying the book until Alice started showing a serious interest in Charlie Blackwell (George W. Bush). She was a multi-faceted character with depth who won me over; then she married Blackwell.
Over the course of the book, Alice is tormented with guilt for causing the death of a classmate (and potential boyfriend/husband), Andrew Imoff, in a motor vehicle accident when she was 17. Forty-four years later in the White House, she still grapples with the pain and guilt, lamenting the fact that their relationship never had a chance to begin. Alice’s feelings are palpable–Sittenfeld did an excellent job of conveying Alice’s agony.
The extended Blackwell clan came off as boorish, racist, elitist snobs and I couldn’t stand reading about them. The matriarch, ‘Maj’ (short for Her Majesty) was a piece of work who needed to be taken down a peg or two. The characterization of Charlie’s brothers and their wives spoke to privilege and arrogance.
For me, the book began to drag as Sittenfeld detailed Charlie’s introduction into the political arena. His depression, fueled by feelings of failure and numbed by alcohol, ultimately led him to God and sobriety.
And on it goes, through Charlie’s rise of political power to the White House via the Governorship of Wisconsin. I understand that in general, people want to make their marriages a success, but where do we draw the line? Sittenfeld characterized Charlie as an obnoxious frat boy and abhorrent cretin in general. Why Alice tolerated his behavior and stayed with him was beyond my comprehension.
American Wife started off strong, with an interesting plot line and a likeable protagonist. As the book went on and Alice met and married Charlie, it lost some of its appeal and I grew disenchanted with a narrator I initially liked. That said, I wouldn’t cross this book off your TBR list because it was entertaining and piqued my interest in reading The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush by Ann Gerhart.
* Random House’s website has the book at 576 pages; the ARC I have has 558.