From the New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Eligible, a novel that imagines a deeply compelling what-might-have-been: What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton?
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.
In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.
Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the new novel Eligible, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice (due out April 2016) as well as the bestselling novels Sisterland, American Wife, Prep, and The Man of My Dreams, which have been translated into twenty-five languages. Curtis's writing has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Vanity Fair,Time, Slate, Glamour, and on public radio's This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she currently lives in St. Louis, MO.
I am a fan of Sittenfeld's work and loved her short story collection and American Wife so I looked forward to this alternate history of Hillary Clinton's life if she hadn't married Bill. A lot works in this retelling. I certainly believed her interpretation of an ambitious and self-possessed Hillary Rodham. The depth of the narrative impressed me. It is quite different from American Wife which surprised me. The only real barrier for me was how visible a public figure the actual Clinton is and as such, it was hard to forget reality while engaged with this fiction.
Blew my saxophone! An inspired, stunningly poignant—yes, even a little dirty—creative re-imagining of what the Clintons are and what they could be in an alternate universe. Funny—and eerie—to think how choosing a different path (not marrying Bill) might have resulted in major surprises and similarities to reality.
Highlights include sexually charged political innuendo between Bill and Hill in their college days, a nude saxophone performance, and delicious characterization of Bill as a self-described “horny bastard” who can’t resist a “savory honeypot.”
Meanwhile, Hillary is seen as a figure who largely gives up earthly delights in favor of pursuing her political mission. The irony is that ambition looks great on men, but makes her unlikable.
The alternate reality aspect offers humor and wit for political junkies and history buffs to relish. For example, Bill’s timid wife gives a disastrous 60 Minutes performance in defense of his infidelity and Hillary thinks how she could have done it better.
Whether you’ve followed Hillary through her entire career, just binged her Hulu documentary, or are vaguely aware of current affairs, there’s plenty to enjoy from all sides of the political aisle.
As for me, my first vivid memory of Hillary Clinton was in 1998. I would have been eight at the time, vaguely aware of the Lewinsky scandal though too young to know the meaning of sex. Hillary was on TV—probably doing the infamous “vast right-wing conspiracy” interview—and my mother spat with venom “she’s only defending him because she wants to be president!”
Previously busy playing with toys, my ears perked to attention. I remember two things happening. First, I was shocked to learn that a woman could be president. As a third grader I memorized the names of presidents and consciously or unconsciously concluded that only men were allowed. This new information literally blew my mind. I had to ask my mother to confirm:
“Is it even legal for a girl to be president?” “Technically yes,” Mom said. “If she’s at least 35.”
The second thing was that I desperately wanted Hillary Clinton—whoever the hell that was—to be the first female president. Whatever fierce determination this woman had, if it was enough to piss off my mom, it had to be good.
As I grew older, my love for Hillary increased. Learning about politics made me understand why someone might find her rehearsed responses ineffective and recognize the occasional poor word choice as political blunders, but it still boggles my mind how many people actually hate her. Democrats! Millennials! Those who never even slogged through wall-to-wall Clinton coverage! Why?? How??
The most bizarre thing I ever heard was a mom say she “wouldn’t want to leave her daughter alone with Hillary.” Why?? Because she might be inspired?
Sorry to tangent--is it possible to talk about Hillary and not go on a tangent?--but my point is that this fictional memoir does a superb job of showcasing Hillary as a human. Someone who falls in love, has sex, makes mistakes, regrets them, tries to move on. That said, the book also helps those of us with rose-colored glasses see her as a problematic figure, in this reality and others. The way the narrative toes that line is remarkable.
This is not 400 pages of glorying Hillary and imagining a utopia where sexism is dead and women waltz into the White House. It by no means blames Bill for all her problems. We get plenty of harsh depictions of Hillary, many of them deserved, and sexism is in full swing. With and without Bill.
Since that fateful day in 2016, I’ve hypothesized that history will actually be kinder to Hillary as the first female candidate rather than the first female president. Certainly it will be kinder to her than to you-know-who currently mucking things up.
Books like this, filled with creative energy, deep reflection, and--most importantly--a riveting imagination of what it’s like to be in Hillary’s shoes refuel my hopes that I’m correct. Time will ultimately tell if her contribution to history is a small step for women or a giant leap, but I remain confident that it’s the latter.
I read Rodham some weeks ago and am of a few different minds about it, because I think you can read this book three different ways: first, as a piece of mainstream fan fiction (because that's exactly what it is); second, as a character study of a woman whose public-facing self is, at this point, a warped amalgamation of various projections; and lastly, as an artifact of what I would call the period of national trauma following the 2016 election.
In the first aspect, as a piece of fan fiction, I actually think the first 1/2 to 2/3 of the book is surprisingly successful (Kudos on AO3, although the Hillary/Bill smut might scar you). As a character portrait, and an exploration of the tension between Hillary's private and public selves, this novel is competent but uninspired. There's a flatness to Sittenfeld's Hillary that she's never quite able to flesh out, and it only gets worse as the book goes on. And in the final aspect, as a broader kind of post-2016 social-political commentary, I think this book is pretty useless. The ending, in particular, engages in some white feminist wishful thinking that has a lot to say about sexism but glosses over the resurgent nationalism, racism, and xenophobia that helped carry Trump to victory four years ago. Even more insidious is Sittenfeld's depiction of Trump as an unlikely Hillary surrogate (yes, really), which plays into the dangerous notion that he's a mere clown who possesses no real ideology. Most of the last 1/3 of this book is baffling at best, and its feel-good ending—which presents the idea of a woman in the White House as a kind of national redemption—rings terribly hollow in 2020.
Okay, it was interesting, creative, extremely thought provoking and we have a skillful, talented author on the board but hmmm… I think this concept didn’t work for me!
I always loved “what if” based story-lines: opens to alternated realities and parallel universes. What if we choose the other path, what if we do the quite opposite thing and rethink our life choices, how will be the consequences? Will be happier, wealthier, healthier, more successful or will we live in regrets, suffer from resentments, depression?
I think semi-autobiography merges with fiction and some kind of retelling, it may be a little confusing. I respect the author’s challenging and truly provocative story-line choice. But two things bugged me:
First: reading an alternative fictional life story of Hilary Rodham narrated by her was confusing because especially at the second part of the book which life changing-sliding door moment later: after Hilary says “no” to Bill for the third time and as the alternated life story begins, I couldn’t connect with the character when I normally do with the characters who tell their story firsthand. In my opinion, third person narration would work better to approach the character from outside and give us opportunity to get a better, objective, non-biased opinion.
Other thing was steamy let’s so called love-making scenes: If they were not fictional characters based on real life and it could possibly work fine with me but as you may imagine playing a sex-tape of Bill and Hillary in your head wasn’t the most entertaining life experience and it is not healthy for your churning stomachs! (big yikes)
The book’s feminist undertone and Hilary’s ambition and determination to find her place at the political jungle, her struggles, her self-discovery to test her limitations were the favorite parts of the novel but long chapters about political campaign slowed down the pace and put the story into repetitive cycle.
Overall: the book answers this question: What if one of the most powerful first ladies in the world wouldn’t stay as the first lady and decide to be a leader! Do you want to know what would happen, you gotta read to know about it!
If I wouldn’t get so confused between fictional and real life characters, this book could easily fix my expectations. But I think, autobiography meet fantasy-fiction genre combination wasn’t my dreamy reading option!
Did Hillary sacrifice her professional future, being with Bill? Not in this fictional tale.
I love Curtis Sittenfeld’s books. HUGE FAN.... “American Wife”, was particularly outstanding. But.... “Rodham”? Hm??? I read through the night - finished this morning. I gobbled this novel in one sitting. Its kinda of creepy... And.... kinda thought- provoking puzzling.
I don’t want to say too much.... ....readers will either choose this book because of being a fan of Hillary Clinton- or a fan of Curtis Sittenfeld: perhaps both! Point is— choosing to read this book is very ‘self selective’. I don’t think any review: positive or negative will influence a readers choice.
So..., I’ll leave one excerpt — and share — that for me— it wasn’t as spectacular as “American Wife”... And not as much fun as other Sittenfeld books.
Personally, I think I’d die if this book was written about me.... ( even as fiction).... Bill says to Hillary: “Your whole body is perfect, and you have such a pretty face, your eyes and lips and your skin. I love playing with your hair, and I love how you smell and how you move when we are in bed. Isn’t it obvious I can’t keep my hands off you? I love your whole body. I love all of you. You’re brave and funny and hard-working and you’re so goddamn smart, but you know what? You’re beautiful, too. And there’s nothing about you that’s pathetic. Nothing”.
The sex scenes, just felt yucky as can be.... and not because I’m a prude or anything was particularly disgusting as far as sex scenes go —but the mixture of personal fiction and political fiction didn’t feel right in my heart. Both played tricks on my mind - with the truth that.... fact is: Bill Clinton was president… And Hillary was his wife and First Lady.
Everything in this book is speculation. I found it worked terrific in Stephen kings book 11/22/63.... But.....less so here.
Cheatin’ sleazy Bill and Hardball Hillary might hit just the right ‘fun notes’.... for many readers.... But..... Power hunger politics & jokes to cover up our pain about the state of our country just felt old.
However.... I wouldn’t mind some watermelon 🍉 about now!
THIS is the reality, the actual story, all serious Hillary fans wanted, maybe still want. As Americans watch the news everyday and get that winsome look in their eyes, they still think – if only Hillary was at the helm.
Read this while you are in isolation and lose yourself for a few hours or days. You will not regret your mindful vacation.
Curtis takes us back to 1971 when Hillary was a top student at Wellesley and gave her renowned commencement speech. Then on to Yale Law, still involved in student activism and women’s rights, she meets fellow student, Bill Clinton, from Arkansas. Both he and Hillary were intelligent, political, and driven, but he had that goofy, southern charm, that both annoyed and attracted her.
Yes, they dated, and he won her over enough for her to move to Arkansas after their graduation. Although Bill proposed several times, Hillary always said no. She had some doubts about Bill, that would not let her marry him with a clear conscious. They broke up and she moved back to Chicago. Hillary built a solid life as a lawyer and professor, eventually leading to local and state politics, and then to the National stage.
Bill calls her now and then to, “keep in touch,” and asks her to say, “good things,” about him to the press. She never promises one way or the other, but Bill keeps chattering on till they are saying goodbyes.
Hillary is focused, always has been, on what is ahead, the goal she wants to attain. She will let nothing stand in her way, not even old boyfriends.
It has been said, and I concur, “Curtis weaves a fictional tale with actual historical events.” (paraphrasing, mine.) Highly recommend.
My last thought, is the timing of this book is unfortunate. 2017 would have been a better year.
Thank you Netgalley, Penguin Random House, and Curtis Sittenfeld
Thank you, Random House, for the gifted early ecopy. I also purchased a physical copy for my shelf.
I’m so excited to finally share my thoughts with you on this book. It’s one I looked forward to all summer long, and I literally enjoyed every sentence. This was my first book from Curtis Sittenfeld, and I found her writing flawless. She pulled me right in to the heart of this story, and my interest never waned, even at over 400 pages.
If you aren’t aware, the premise is that Hillary Rodham does not marry Bill Clinton. What direction does her life take instead? If you have had a hard time accepting Hillary as is, I think this book may give you some insight even though it’s fiction. I was already a fan, and I still gained so much insight into her character and the whys and hows (I know, it’s fiction). It’s funny because, as I write this review, I’m listening to In Her Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One of the first things she describes is her love for her husband and how he was willing to love an intellectual, powerful woman, and how rare that is and was, especially for that time.
Back to Rodham, I could not put it down. It’s steamy- wow, steamier than anything I’ve read recently, smart, and insightful. There’s good tension, too, as you follow along to see what will happen next for Hillary. I thought the whole thing was brilliant.
Hear ye, hear ye: I've found what'll no doubt be one of the most polarizing books of the year and what I can only describe as a muuuuch darker and more political version of Taylor Jenkins Reid's Maybe In Another Life mixed with a little bit of the TV show Veep.
The second I heard of Rodham's impending publication, it sent me down a bit of an existential crisis: Do we really need (or even truly want) a fictionalized account of Hillary Clinton's life without Bill Clinton as her spouse? Does it even matter? Especially when there are so many other books that can and should be published?
One thing can't be doubted: Curtis Sittenfeld makes some incredibly deft and poignant remarks about modern womanhood and what it means to be a woman with ambition; I felt many of the struggles she described viscerally. And Sittenfeld wasn't necessarily in the wish fulfillment business where Hillary would be a perfect person without Bill, which was actually a relief. But my other big abstract question is, did we really need it to be Hillary Clinton to tell this story? There can be something unsettling about trying to fill in a lot of intimate gaps about a real-life person no matter who that is, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
Larger existential questions aside, I never quite got myself totally oriented with the writing itself. Hillary's personality oscillates between being nonexistent and slightly wry, and the chapter breakdowns were a little all over the place. I also felt like the ending was pretty abrupt considering how much of a slow burn the rest of the book was. I'm putting this one at 2.5 stars.
I don't think I'll ever get much of a handle on Rodham. But maybe that's sort of the point.
In these Dark Ages of the Reign of Trump, Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Rodham” descends like an avenging angel. Here, in the pages of this alternate history about Hillary Rodham Clinton, is the story not of “What Happened” but of “What Could Have Happened.” This isn’t just fiction as fantasy; it’s fiction as therapy for that majority of Americans who voted for Clinton in 2016 and are now sick and unemployed under the current calamitous administration.
It takes a village to create a demon, and that tireless work has produced the extraordinary boogeywoman that is Clinton, the conniving, corrupt, murderous, senile, pedophiliac, money-grubbing, cookie-hating, email-abusing harridan who terrifies Fox News commentators. Indeed, as the subject of thousands of wing nut conspiracies, Clinton may already be the most fictionalized person in modern political history.
But “Rodham” is something of a rarity in American publishing. The market has long featured highly partisan nonfiction books created exclusively for liberals or conservatives. Trump disciples and detractors can spend their whole lives cuddled up with memoirs, biographies, exposés and rants that confirm their polarized convictions. “Rodham,” though, is a high-profile novel — not a parody or a joke book, but a serious work of literary fiction — designed to rally the political spirits of liberal readers.
More than a decade ago, Sittenfeld published “American Wife,” a thoughtful, slightly melancholy. . . .
[4.5] Rodham is not for everyone - but I loved it! If you dislike Hillary, I don't recommend spending 417 pages with her. Boldly and brilliantly, Sittenfeld reimagines Hillary's life so well, that going forward it will be hard for me to reconcile her actual life with the one in this novel. Especially in the beginning, it is jarring to be inside Hillary's head (and bed). And as she did in American Wife Sittenfeld pads the pages with mundane details. Yet I was never bored. I found this novel exhilarating!
This was a really interesting book. I enjoyed the writing style, it was really easy to comprehend. The story at the beginning was engaging and quick, but around the halfway point, it really slowed down and dragged a little bit. The characters were well rounded and interesting to read about, but character development was a little bit inconsistent.
You know, when I first heard of this book, I wanted nothing more than pure wish fulfillment, a Tarantino-style rewriting of history to close our eyes to the horror that is our actual reality. But as I read more and more of Rodham, especially given the massive unrest and movement around police brutality and racism in the U.S., none of it felt right. I wasn't satisfied, and I did not wish I could live in this fantasy world. Although I would certainly have preferred Hillary as a our president compared to the vile man who's currently in office, I'm not going to pretend like having Hillary as president would in any way erase the very real issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other manner of disgusting sentiment that, as we've discovered, has just been lurking beneath the surface this whole time.
It's certainly an interesting thought experiment that Sittenfeld has engaged in here, and I did like reading about Bill and Hillary's initial courtship and the (likely real) warning signs of things to come. In this story, Hillary decides not to marry Bill after experiencing how he has an insatiable desire for sex in addition to no respect for women. Hillary becomes a professor, then eventually a Senator (running against Carol Moseley Braun in a storyline I did not like), and then runs for president a few times. Donald Trump enters the story in a less than satisfying way. Bill Clinton re-enters the story. The whole Benghazi-and-emails chant is not rehashed because Hillary never served in Obama's cabinet (to me, an unrealistic turn of events, Obama still existed in this narrative and he definitely would have appointed her to a cabinet post), so that controversy goes away. There are still scandals and gaffes, but everything works out in the end, just as advertised.
This book reads more as fiction to me, particularly because I haven't read enough biographies/autobiographies of Hillary and Bill to know what's factual and what's not. It must have been tough for Sittenfeld to meld history with fiction, and she does it fairly seamlessly.
Overall, it just doesn't feel like the right time to be reading a book like this, nor does it feel helpful to try to pin all of our hopes and dreams on someone who admittedly is problematic and wouldn't have been the savior we're looking for. It's a fun thought experiment, but it wasn't fun, escapist wish fulfillment like, say, Inglourious Basterds.
One day after finishing this book, my anger against it increased. My feeling was upgraded from "dislike" to "detest". Therefore, 1 star instead of 2.
I had been fascinated by Bill Clinton since he was elected to be US president in 1992. I read many books about him and wished I would meet him one day to see if his charm was real. It finally happened in 2016 at a Hillary event. Hillary was with Bill and Chelsea and I met all of them. Hillary took a selfie with me. What surprised me the most was that Hillary was a better speaker and had more charisma than Bill by that time.
I'm sure many of us who voted for Hillary in 2008(primary) and 2016 wonder "what if"s. One of them is Hillary and Bill's marriage. I read this novel hoping Hillary gets better life in the alternate universe.
Unfortunately, it was a letdown. If she had decided not to marry Bill, she would've moved on completely. Hillary in this novel sounds too insecure about her looks or her value as a woman(and as a person). I don't think she is like that at all. Sittenfeld doesn't seem to understand who Hillary is. It's quite an insult for Hillary and readers like me. I don't think Sittenfeld really understood why women decide to stay with their boyfriends or husbands who are obviously bad for them. I hate the way Sittenfeld cheapened Hillary's character and her struggle.
*NO spoilers in this review - and I suggest that if you already know you are very interested in reading this, you avoid reading other reviews beforehand and learning anything about what happens in the book. I’ve never issued such a “warning” before, but this strategy really allowed me a strong emotional payoff, especially in the end. I’ve been surprised lately by how much plot detail is revealed in so many reviews of so many books.*
Curtis Sittenfeld is maybe more of a performance artist than a writer. A great writer, also, sure! - but at the same time, a kind of trickster who also loves to make us subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) cringe, ever since her Prep days! If you liked that earnest fish out of water tale, I suspect, or at least hope, you may like this one, too.
I’ve deliberately tried to avoid reading other reviews of this before putting down my own thoughts because I suspect people will assess it unduly harshly (as is their right, of course). I think a book like this is, on some level, destined to fail and disappoint some folks. It’s so audacious to do the things Sittenfeld does, like rewrite most-beloved classics, rip the ivy from hallowed institutional walls, write “alternate fictionalized histories” about HISTORY THAT IS STILL CURRENTLY IN THE MIDST OF HAPPENING, OR JUST, PAINFULLY, RECENTLY, HAPPENED, AND WE ARE STILL REELING FROM IT AND ALSO BTW OUR NATION IS STILL SO F&*$KED UP AND EVEN MORE SO. But you know what? I love her for it. Because I trust her as a writer, and I guess that’s what this book comes down to:
Curtis Sittenfeld: [extends hand] Reader: uh Curtis Sittenfeld: Come With Me.
…I said yes, I went along! And I am glad I did!
I suspect it’s easy to be especially critical of this novel because we are all so anxious and hungry for answers and healing that it’s not necessarily this book’s job to deliver, were it even in the realm of possibility. So, the fact that this is a book “about” political figures thus proves a bit of a red herring. But even if the novel cannot adequately address our many current and valid existential questions and fears, I do think it does a fine job of exploring at least some relevant themes that have affected our present reality, politically and otherwise: in particular, systemic and entrenched sexism in both politics and society, as well as the fusion of news and entertainment-oriented media that has contributed to the rise of politics-as-spectacle and the glorification of hijinks that helped pluck our current “leader” from the realm of pageants, pro wrestling, and reality TV.
This is how I’d describe this novel: As a kid, did you ever have one of those spiral-bound books that consisted of a bunch of diferent flaps with the heads, torsos, and legs/feet of different people and animals, and you could mix them up to create a familiar yet fantastical creature?
Likewise in this book, the parts are all familiar, but scrambled to create a different whole. I guess I’m saying that this book provides more of a potential parallel reality rather than a fully “alternate” one. Even though characters in this book make some different choices than the ones we know they made (and one choice in particular), resulting in different ends than the ones who know as recent history (and one end in particular) - so much else remains the same, because the underlying and overarching sets of systems in which these actors are all working overpower the individual choices of said actors.
So, this book doesn’t so much “burn it all down” as to simply show another way things could perhaps fairly realistically have gone, given the personal/political/societal limitations and tethers and failings we’re currently dealing with, which all seemed believable enough to me. There is a tiny bit of wish fulfillment (for me at least, and probably for many others here) in the end, welcome in these dark times, but it’s certainly not an escapist fantasy - you will read through a lot of underpants-exposed cringe to earn it.
The book separates roughly in three parts for me, and while each is quite different (and I gather people have their differing opinions on which they preferred), I truly enjoyed them all for different reasons, and I encourage you to stick it through to the final third, which I described as an “emotional rollercoaster” and is well worth the investment. Here are a couple of aspects of the book that I enjoyed throughout:
-Sittenfeld is an expert mimic: every known, real person in this book moved and thought and spoke and looked exactly as I would imagine. Her brain/imagination must be like an IMAX cinema.
-In my assessment, Sittenfeld portrayed pretty much everyone in this book (especially the Hillary character) realistically while also retaining compassion and respect. Nobody is a caricature or one thosand percent horrible through and through, even if deeply and/or morally flawed. (Even our current whatever-he-is-in-chief makes one bumbling and offensive contribution to society in his own beyond-problematic way.) I think this is a tricky balance, because we are dealing with some fraught characters in a fraught arena, and she skillfully strikes it. I didn’t want to read a version of even the best SNL episode ever, and I’m glad I didn’t have to. I actually think one of Sittenfeld’s best qualities as a writer is her restraint, understatement, and down-to-earthness even when dealing with sensational subjects.
-I think it was valuable for me that Sittenfeld “kills some darlings,” as they say. In a time when I know I tend to really idealize the recent past, given my feelings about the current “leader” and state of things, it’s good to be reminded that everyone has failings - and probably especially so, unfortunately, if they are not only drawn to enter politics (or big business), but also equipped to actually succeed there given the realities of our current times.
-I liked that this book wasn’t Veep or something; it’s a really good portrait of the sheer drudgery, albeit mixed-with-occasional-absurdity, that is contemporary politics and campaigning. And it excels as a portrait of what even a super well qualified, experienced woman can endure on the campaign trail. God - I could never, ever handle it.
And may I end by saying that Sittenfeld is just plain entertaining, and takes you on a freaking journey? I mean, would I ever NOT read anything she publishes? Nope, I will Read It All. She is one of our more unique writers with a take all her own on What Should I Write About Next? Maybe she will issue a poll so that we can submit our requests for that. That’s what would certainly happen in my own hypothetical Curtis Sittenfeld fan fiction! A reader gal can dream! Whatever that is - whether she continues to reign as Queen of the Highest Caliber Fanfic Ever or goes off in an entirely different direction - I’ll be here for it.
Rodham is a fascinating and thought-provoking look at what could have been, at least filtered through Curtis Sittenfeld's mind.
Nearly everyone has an opinion of Hillary Clinton. Some love her, some admire her, some think she’s truly evil and corrupt. But no matter how polarizing a figure she is, there’s no denying the world’s interest in the Clinton family.
In 1971, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham met at Yale Law School. She’s a highly intellectual activist; he’s already planning a political future. He's flirtatious and magnetic, she was once told by a boy that she had a crush on that he thought of her as a guy. They’re drawn to each other passionately, and for Hillary, this relationship leaves her undone in ways she never expected.
In real life, Bill proposed to Hillary several times, and she ultimately said yes. But Rodham imagines a different scenario—in the book, Sittenfeld explores what might have happened if Hillary ultimately said no to Bill’s proposal. What does the trajectory of her life look like? What happens to Bill?
The book follows Hillary through 2016 and charts a very interesting personal and political path. She and Bill encounter each other through the years, and there’s no denying the pull they feel for one another. But is it possible to have everything you want all at the same time?
This was a fascinating read. Sittenfeld did a great job imagining Hillary as a woman and a politician, and how those two roles both mesh and clash. The life she created for Hillary was both admirable and bleak, and the “what-if” scenario was utterly compelling.
There are some steamy sex scenes which made me uncomfortable, because it was like reading about your parents having sex. But other than that, I’m a fan of Sittenfeld’s writing, and in Rodham, she has created a powerful character from a powerful woman.
What if Hillary and Bill Clinton had never married? In this fictionalized account of her life post-Bill (they date in law school and break up due to his infidelity and satyromania), Hillary Rodham becomes a senator representing Illinois, runs against Bill Clinton (a politician-turned-tech god?) for President of the United States in 2016, and wins with the endorsement of Donald J. Trump. What?!
I was really looking forward to the premise of this book, but the structure crumbled as I struggled to finish it. I hoped it would provide readers with a more nuanced look into Hillary's life, which the media failed to give her during her 2016 presidential campaign. But in Rodham, she remains flat and two-dimensional, blatantly (white) feminist to the point of yawning.
I also struggled with the sexual nature of this book, and felt uncomfortable and disrespectful when reading about the sexual relations between Hillary and Bill during their five-year (post-)law school romance. The author paints Bill as a sex addict and never lets you forget it. I’m all for sex positivity and erotic writing, but as Bill and Hillary are still alive and married, I wonder what Hillary would think if she read these passages.
In fact, that thought stuck with me through the entirety of this novel. Does Hillary know it's out there? Did the author ask Hillary permission of any kind? What if her family reads it? Perhaps it feels too soon for such a personal, fan-fiction account of Hillary's relationships and what we lost in November of 2016.
I'm confident that the author is a Hillary fan and most likely supported her. I write all of this at the risk of sounding prudish, but this book did not hit home in the way I desperately wanted a Hillary Rodham (Clinton) novel to. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
My best friend Curtis Sittenfeld (swipe for photographic proof) wrote a book just for me. And if the saxophone scene doesn’t make you squeal with delight and discomfort then we are not the same. A triumph.
It's "summer" and it's 2020 and it's a pandemic, so nothing feels quite right. Aren't we all looking for an alternate reality right now? The characterizations here felt right, making this a great escape. I think the less said about this one, the better for future readers. My favorite line came a little more than halfway through: "It's weird you almost married Bill Clinton, because he seems so unworthy of you."
What can I say about Rodham that hasn’t already been said? What if Hillary hadn’t married Bill? Sittenfeld imagines an alternate life for Hillary, something most of us have at least occasionally considered for ourselves. In this narrative, she is still the same person we’ve come to know over several decades — not perfect, which I appreciated — but makes different choices, forging her own path.
I was in kindergarten when Bill Clinton was elected President and Googled a handful of names while reading this story (particularly in the earlier timeframes), in an attempt to determine if the person was real or fictional, and if real, for a little more context about them. I promise this is not a spoiler: It would be absolute Lie to say I wasn’t thrilled to see GWB was never president in this story — The joy of fiction.
Rodham is a classic game of scenarios and I was very curious to see how things would play out for Hillary in this interesting take that combines history and fiction.
Hillary Clinton would probably like this book. Bill Clinton would definitely hate it. And Donald Trump would be enraged by it. As for me, discounting its hyper-focus on romance, I loved it. Curtis Sittenfeld writes some of the best realistic--emphasis on "real”--fiction I’ve ever read. With Rodham, Sittenfeld re-envisioned the story of Hillary Clinton, the person and political figure. Here, she's Hillary Rodham, having never married Bill, though passionately involved with him for years. It's a really bold story to tell--not least because the major political figures featured are still alive--and unlike anything I've read before.
Hillary Clinton is a mystery. Her inner life, or even just how she is when she lets her hair down, is probably something few people consider, but Sittenfeld did. She showed that inner life frankly, successfully humanizing someone who still can't escape the hatred directed at her. The Hillary of Rodham is likable. She's insecure in romance but confident in her professional life. She nurtures lifelong friendships and makes mistakes. She's articulate and intellectually curious, kind and loyal. She's someone I'd want to know.
But even those who have no desire to know her can enjoy Rodham because simply put, this is a really strong, compelling story. I was so impressed by Sittenfeld’s vision, particularly by the specific liberties she took to make this Hillary her own. Rodham is full of little twists and turns that keep things very interesting. As mentioned in the summary of the book, Hillary rejects marriage proposals from Bill and instead forges her own path as an independent, ambitious woman. Nevertheless, Bill never totally exits her life; as they're both involved in politics, they encounter each other now and then over many decades. They evolve separately from each other in intriguing ways, and observing how their highly charged interactions change as they mature had me feeling an array of emotions.
This is a typical Sittenfeld story--meaning the characters experience plenty of dilemmas, hardships, regrets, and shame alongside their successes and joy. It's also typical Sittenfeld in that it features romantic complications. Rodham is divided into three parts, and I was surprised and dismayed by how boy crazy Hillary is in parts one and two. The confident Hillary the public is familiar with has been replaced by a discouraged woman who's obsessed with the fact that she can't keep a man. Hillary is a product of her time at the same time she’s ahead of her time, and she struggles to accept that wanting to achieve great things comes with the price of losing the dating game.
This romantic angst isn't totally unnecessary because it does square with research that’s shown that a large percentage of men find intelligent and successful women undesirable. However, by focusing so much on romantic yearning, parts one and two undermine this story about a smart woman in politics while sending a damaging message on the general level. Although I of course don't know Hillary's inner life, the boy-crazy portrayal doesn't feel true to her essence at all and ultimately diminishes and insults her. Certainly she's human and maybe has felt insecure when it comes to romance, but it's hard to believe it could be to this extent.
Part three is a considerable improvement. This is closer to the Hillary the public knows and therefore feels more authentic. Her political ambition has ramped up and important scenes of sexism are more plentiful here. The spins on her story, Bill's, and Donald Trump's are especially entertaining in this part, and Sittenfeld captured the physical presence, vocal cadences, and linguistic quirks of these three perfectly. Donald Trump is Donald Trump, still an inarticulate, vain buffoon, but Bill Clinton is a very different Bill Clinton, at his core. This story is fearless in so many ways, but especially in its Bill Clinton portrayal, which is so unfavorable it shades into defamatory.
When I first began Rodham, I thought it was like American Wife because both are about political figures, but as I read on I noted that Rodham is unlike American Wife. Whereas that book contains fictionalized details of George and Laura Bush, it mostly follows their real-life script. Rodham is a major reworking. It’s highly fictionalized yet tells a totally plausible story about Hillary (and Bill and Trump) that seems plucked straight out of the multiverse. Add to it easy, natural dialogue; personal ruminations; and endless surprising scenes, and the book is nearly perfect. Sittenfeld no doubt faced challenges in writing Rodham and going by the long list of books she read as research, the preparation was time-consuming. The end result was well worth it.
Een meeslepend boek over wat had kunnen zijn als fatsoen en competentie meer een kans hadden in het moderne politieke bedrijf, en hoe ras en gender hierbij nog steeds grote obstakels vormen 'Luister' zei hij. 'Je weet dat ik enorm veel respect voor je heb.' Ik heb in de loop der jaren geleerd dat mensen het vaakst hun respect betuigen wanneer hun gedrag het tegendeel suggereert.
In Rodham volgen we het leven van Hillary Rodham en hoe dit verlopen zou zijn als ze niet met Bill Clinton getrouwd is. Het eerste hoofdstuk van het boek gaat over haar universiteitsleven en hoe ze Bill ontmoet heeft. In dit eerste hoofdstuk komt de emancipatoire kracht van een opleiding terug, in bepaalde opzichten deed dit hoofdstuk mij veel denken aan de mémoire Becoming van Michelle Obama. Heel anders is wel dat Hillary haar vader zeer hard en vervelend is, wat echter de ambities van Hillary eerder aanwakkert dan tegenhoudt.
De relatie met Bill is passioneel, in sommige scènes zelfs op een cringey manier (denk aan Bill die bloot op zijn saxofoon blaast) maar al snel in hoofdstuk 2 blijkt Bill vreemd te gaan, waarna Hillary in het boek een andere keuze maakt dan in het echte leven.
Verwijten, naast de meer duidelijk seksistische kritieken, die Hillary in het echte leven vaak kreeg draaide om dat ze op macht uit was dan op het hooghouden van haar normen. Curtis Sittenfeld schetst in dit kader een genuanceerd beeld, waarbij Hillary al vroeg in de relatie met Bill optreedt tegen zijn overtredingen van de partij financieringsregels, maar waarbij ze ook verre van doortastend is tegenover beschuldigingen van seksuele intimidatie die te maken hebben met Bill. Het boek geeft je het gevoel dat Hillary zeker competent is, maar ook dat in moderne politiek fatsoen en standaarden eerder hindernissen dan aanbevelingen zijn.Verder laat het boek ook goed de invloed van geld op politiek zien. Veel van de mensen waar Hillary in deze roman mee omgaat zijn rijk en invloedrijk en worden ook nadrukkelijk zo door haar beschreven in het narratief. Ze heeft een privéjet tot haar beschikking, een make-up artiest, een kapper en een heel inhoudelijk team om campagne te kunnen voeren. Alleen al voor een senaatsverkiezing in 1992 is $5 miljoen nodig en haar campagne in 2008 heeft in het boek $80 miljoen opgehaald zonder nog maar tot de democratische kandidaat gekozen te zijn. Deze focus op geld en publiek imago komt ook nog hilarisch over wanneer Hillary op een date gaat en allerlei mogelijke eetgelegenheden afgekeurd wordt als te elitair. Maar uiteindelijk is de hele aandacht die in het boek gegeven wordt aan fundraising, het uitbrengen van een ghostwritten boek, verschijningen in talkshows en het hip overkomen op de "socials" iets wat een ongemakkelijk gevoel achter laat bij de lezer en een terechte commentaar is op het hele politieke systeem.
De verteller in dit boek, alternatieve Hillary, ligt voor mijn gevoel dicht bij wat ik me herinner van het lezen van What Happened, waarin Clinton op haar campagne in 2016 terugkijkt. Ook de politieke antwoorden, die nadrukkelijk niet aanstootgevend moeten zijn, droegen hieraan bij, maar kunnen iemand zeker ook tegen de Hillary die in Rodham geschetst wordt in het harnas jagen. Sowieso moet je geinteresseerd zijn in het (Amerikaanse) politieke bedrijf om Rodham een interessante roman te vinden. De verhouding die Sittenfeld tussen ras en gender in het boek opwerpt is ook fascinerend. Zo verwijt een vertrouweling van Hillary haar in het boek Dit gaat voor jou niet over ras wanneer Hillary zich kandidaat stelt voor de senaatszetel, in plaats van de steun te geven aan een zwarte vrouw die in werkelijkheid de eerste zwarte vrouwelijke senator zou worden. Later in het boek stipt Hillary het onderwerp aan wanneer ze opmerkt dat zwarte Amerikanen al in 1870 konden stemmen maar vrouwen dit recht pas in 1920 kregen. Verder komt Donald Trump nog in een hilarische, deels door Hillary geënsceneerde, rol terug. Zijn gedrag in de roman doet iemand uitroepen is hij nou gek of een pathologische leugenaar waarop de reactie is bij Trump krijg je er twee voor de prijs van één.
Ik vond Rodham een vermakelijk en vlot boek, wat je als lezer, zeker nu Amerika het land is met meeste Covid-19 gevallen, een weemoedig gevoel geeft over wat had kunnen zijn in 2016.
Curtis Sittenfeld's engaging novel looks at Hillary Rodham's life through this prism: what if she hadn't married Bill Clinton? In 1971, as Hillary Rodham graduates from Wellesley, she delivers a commencement speech that gains national prominence. She heads to Yale Law school--an intelligent woman, filled with the desire to help those in need. It is there she meets Bill Clinton, a fellow law student. The connection between the two is instant--for the first time, Hillary feels she has found someone who appreciates her both emotionally and physically. In real life, Hillary and Bill head to Arkansas. He proposes three times, and she finally accepts, becoming Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"The first time I saw him, I thought he looked like a lion."
But here, in this imaginative and powerful novel, Hillary does not accept Bill's third proposal. Devastated, she leaves Arkansas and embarks on a different life. The pair's paths cross again (and again) in the years ahead, causing Hillary to sometimes doubt her decision.
I found this to be such an interesting read and oddly hopeful somehow, as if Sittenfeld read my brain and created the world I dreamed of--what a great book to read during these dismal times. It takes a little time to get into the flow of the writing: the first-person narrative certainly places you in the action, but I needed to adjust to switching back and forth between time periods (Hillary's past and present). And, funnily enough, you have to remember that this is and isn't Hillary--the first quarter of the book or so loosely follows Hillary's real life, so sometimes you have to recall who is truly speaking. I am not actually reading a Hillary memoir.
I loved how this book rewrites history--and with zero apologies. Bill Clinton does not always come off looking good here, though the love and chemistry between the two is clearly palpable. You find a variety of other characters from real life, so to speak, who sometimes play their actual roles, or re-imagined versions, and it's so fun. And, why yes, even Donald Trump has a place here. What a wonderful place it is, too. If you love politics, or political satire, there's a lot to love here.
"'If Bill Clinton was my boyfriend, I'd keep an eye on him too.'"
The Hillary of Sittenfeld's world is so real, so true, and so vulnerable and lovable. (And whoa, are there sex scenes, guys.) Even better, Sittenfeld doesn't make her perfect by any stretch; she's flawed and fallible, too. It doesn't take long to see history's actual Hillary taking this path, and sometimes, oh sometimes, I longed for her to do so. Sittenfeld excels at telling a tale from another person's perspective, somehow putting herself in their shoes. I got so caught up in this Hillary's world that I read the last half of the book in one take, desperate to know what happened to her. She felt real to me, and I needed to know how her life turned out. Please, Hillary, let it all work out this time.
This book is different, yes. It might not be for everyone, politically. But I found it fascinating to think about such a thing--how the choices we make in life affect so much. Not just saying yes to a marriage proposal, but all the other actions we take on any given day. This is a smartly written book, cementing Sittenfeld as a brilliant writer and storyteller. 4 stars.
I received a copy of this novel from Random House and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review; it releases 05/19/2020.
You can support indie bookstores and a buy a copy of this novel here.
Two disclaimers: 1) I am a Hillary fangirl. I have been since 1992. 2) I love fanfiction.
Turns out, putting the two things together doesn't work for me. I saw this book and I couldn't wait to read it. And then I started reading it and I wanted to put it down and walk away almost as quickly. I've always found fanfic about real people to be really cringe-worthy, so I guess I should have known better.
It's not that the book is bad. If you're comfortable reading a fictional personal account of a living person, then you might like this book. I just...don't. I always find myself wondering what the person would think if they were reading it and it makes me feel gross. This book was full of those moments. Honestly, it wasn't just the real-life fanfic aspect that made me grimace. As I sit here writing this review, I'm realizing what really turned me off. Somehow, in this alternate reality, Bill Clinton is a more hideous person than Donald Trump. And Hillary, while not perfect in reality, is made to do things to advance her career that are really pretty disgusting...and for no apparent reason. They're written into the timeline, they were the author's choice entirely. Why? Why create huge character flaws? The more I think about this book, the more annoyed I get. So I'll end this review before I knock it down to one star. It had some good moments, but overall? It's a pass from me.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What if Hillary didn’t marry Bill? Spoiler alert Trump would never become president, and I’m just saying makes the book worth it! OK let me preface this review by stating I am not a big Hillary Clinton fan. I am liberal and I would love to see a woman be president, she just rubs me the wrong way. Probably for many reasons brought up in this book. This book did really make me think about how we unconsciously judge women differently than men. A woman is a nag or being bossy while a man is being assertive or a leader. In reading this book it appears as though Hillary battled this her entire life. Even as a child her classmates and classmates parents saw her strong assertive personality as her acting like a “boy“. But this is not a love letter to Hillary, the book really shows all sides of her, both the good and the bad. I found the early relationship between Hillary and Bill quite fascinating. If this book is completely true Hillary knew what she was getting into when she married Bill, she made a conscious decision to Mary him warts womanizing and all. But this book is about what happens to Hillary if she does NOT marry Bill.
This might be the very first historical retelling of sorts involving historical people I’m familiar with. Meaning I’ve read books about the Kennedys but I was not alive when JFK was president. It all is kind of like a fairytale of sorts. With the Clintons I actually went and saw Clinton speak when he was running for president in 92, so this was a little surreal. And some of it just did not work. Like the thought of Bill and Hillary having any kind of sexual interactions *yuck* it’s kind of like thinking of your parents having sex. I also think I got a little confused by trying to separate what had actually happened and what hadn’t happened. I am really intrigued by the question of, what if? This book gave me a lot to think about. I also think I like Hillary a lot better after reading this. Or at least I have open my mind to where she was coming from. Now Bill on the other hand, he was not painted well in this book I don’t think. All in all this was a really fascinating well told story and I think people will enjoy it whether they are a Hillary fan or not.
This book in emojis 👩🏻💼 🗳 🎷 📱 🇺🇸
*** Big thank you to Transworld for my gifted copy of this book. All opinions are my own. ***
3.7 This is well researched wish fulfillment, and it’s fun. The early relationship between Hillary & Bill is sexy, and the portrayals of both Bill & Trump are so pitch-perfect, they had me laughing out loud, a lot. Plus, I found the ending very moving.
My first response upon finishing this book was, "No words." Followed by, "Wow wow wow."
I have no idea how Curtis Sittenfeld did this.
Using real-life speeches and public moments to build a story around is hard enough, but it feels like she got access to Bill and Hillary Clinton that of course she didn't. And yet as I was reading this I felt like I was a voyeur into Hillary's life.
The first section of the book plays out how you imagine real life must have played, and Sittenfeld does an INCREDIBLE job showing just how compelling Bill Clinton is, and yet how someone with that charisma would fall for the intellect, the ambition, the personality of Hillary Rodham. It feels so real. You understand how these two people married in real life, and you understand what's kept them together all these years. It's a marriage of minds and personality. I am floored by Sittenfeld in this section.
And then she goes and has Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton break up at what would have been a real-life turning point in their relationship, and the way those two paths diverge is fascinating and compelling and honest and intelligent and all the things.
The way that Sittenfeld ties in real-life events is so deft and believable. The way that Donald Trump becomes a character in the book is gross and understandable and icky and yet he doesn't come off nearly as bad as Bill Clinton. I love the conflating of the two. I love that Hillary Rodham still faces a lot of the setbacks and gains that Hillary Clinton did. I kept being sucker punched by moments throughout this book, in a way that I would never have expected.
I loved this and I want to talk to someone about it so go read it and then let's chat.
I really wanted to like this, because Curtis Sittenfeld, you know?
But I was icked out from the earliest pages. Fan fiction about real people, particularly a person that has dominated and continues to dominates headlines, crosses a line that I didn't even know I had drawn. It's also important to emphasize the "fan" in fan fiction. Rodham isn't simply drawing inspiration from Hillary Clinton's life; it's unapologetically rooting for her, making the novel not much more than a wish fulfillment narrative for all the liberal professional women scarred by 2016.
I decided not to finish it, because the dissonance between real life and the pages of this book was giving me whiplash. It's frustrating, because I believe the themes that Sittenfeld wanted to explore could have easily found a place in a novel with a generic fictional female politician protagonist. Her choice to lean towards imitation instead of taking mere inspiration did this work a massive disservice.
Grace and the Fever by Zan Romanoff is a novel inspired by real-life people (the band members of One Direction) that manages to serve as fan fiction but also skewer the genre at the same time. And for that, it is a much more successful novel.
I often find her work rather cynical and this was no exception, but I also found it quite funny and entertaining in an ironic way by the end. At the beginning I was frustrated, because it seemed the book more about Bill than Hillary. Then it got a little slow, but finally raced through a lot of hilarity to get to the ending. Hard to describe without giving too much away. 3.5⭐️