Becca's Reviews > American Wife

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
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Feb 16, 09

bookshelves: read_2009, literary_fiction
Read in January, 2009

This book was a really interesting read. It was a challenge, knowing that the book is Sittenfeld's imagining of the life of Laura Bush, to separate fact from fiction. I had to remind myself often that the words were Sittenfeld's, the thoughts were Alice and Charlie's, and that neither the words nor the thoughts were Laura's or George's. This was especially challenging in light of the fact that so much of it was clearly thinly-veiled fact. Charlie buys the Milwaukee Brewers, George bought the Texas Rangers; Charlie went to Princeton, George went to Yale; Charlie has a drug and alcohol problem, George had a drug and alcohol problem.

American Wife has two ingredients I really enjoy in a novel: exploration of familial relationships and long-term storytelling. I love when a novel follows a character throughout his or her lifetime (or even one that follows several generations of a family). I enjoy watching the character grow and seeing how all of the episodes of a person's life shape them and effect each successive episode. I liked that when Alice mentions she has her Giving Tree sculpture on her desk in the White House I felt invested in that, as a reader, because I'd also read about how Alice had made that sculpture.

This novel also grapples with the idea of identity and celebrity, which is fascinating to me. I really liked when Alice was describing her celebrity and how occasionally people would say to her, "wow, it must be weird to be famous," not realizing that just by making that statement, they too are contributing to the weirdness.

The greatest strength of this novel, however, is in its portrayal of Alice Blackwell as neither sympathetic nor hateful. She just is. Sometimes you sympathize with her and think "losing a loved one is so awful; having the public act as if they know you must again be awful," other times you think "ugh, how can she stay married to him?? What is wrong with her?" But you never fully swing one way or the other, you just accept that Alice has made her decisions for better or for worse and that she feels the same way about them. She's not asking for your sympathy or your condemnation when she shares the details of her life; she's just sharing.
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