Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

Are there no ethics about writing novels featuring real, living people? Does anyone else feel massively uncomfortable at the idea of reading about the fictionalized sex life of a current public figure as imagined by a popular novelist? Do we think a man would ever get this treatment?

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Zachary What makes this novel different from The Social Network, or The Crown, or the Obama/Biden mystery novels, or Vice, or W. or Southside With You or any of dozens of works of entertainment that use real life people as inspiration? Are those unethical?
Louisa Waldorf I'm a lover of fan fiction and once I saw people referring to this book as something akin to fan fiction, I was intrigued. But of course writing fan fiction about real, living people is highly questionable.
I immediately loved the premise of this book (what could have been if Hillary had never married Bill?) and I have loved Sittengeld's book American Wife, so I thought that she would be someone to do the subject justice.
I loved the book but I do think that out of respect for Hillary or any living person, she should have changed the name as she did with Laura Bush in American Wife. Everybody knows it was inspired by Laura anyhow and that's completely fine, but in order to write a novel about someone, you have to imagine their most intimate thoughts and yes, often sex comes into play as well. I think it's okay to imagine all that about Hillary or anyone but once you publish it, do change the name because in the end, it is fiction, not the real Hillary's thoughts and sex life.
Unfortunately, I think the publisher probably preferred it this way because it gets more attention and sells more books than would be the case with a name change. Nonetheless, I think a name change would have been appropriate and I say this as a writer myself. It's very important to me to show respect for the people who may inspire my characters or stories.
It's not that Sittenfeld shows no respect for Hillary and she obviously admires her too but I don' think any of us would like it if it was us on the cover of a book like that.
Vivian Outside of fanfiction, no. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with this author, but the concept of alternative biography seems odd because while it shares objectives of alternate history narratives it is highly speculative and doing that while a person is alive is skeevy. Then again, it looks like this author makes their hay off of alternate versions.
Ed Bernard Wow, I completely disagree with everyone who has problems with this premise. Do you all really think that this book violates Hillary's privacy any more than the many inaccurate and appalling accounts of her real life (an entire subsection of the population thinks she's a murderer and ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor!). I think Sittenfeld is incredibly respectful of what she perceives to be the "real" Hillary (though given that the story is told in the first person, and the long history of unreliable narrators, do we even believe her? Many of "Rodham's" internal dialogs seem like direct lifts of sound bites.) There are many, many examples of fictionalized people, from Nixon to Gary Gilmore. You may not want to read it, but that doesn't mean that Curtis Sittenfeld (I admit to being a massive fan) cannot write it.
Michele Menard I had the same reaction when I read the synopsis and I will not be reading this book. If it's that good, it could have stood on its own, without using real people.

And NO - I can't see this happening to a man.
JoAnn I'm reading it now. I didn't even think one bit about the sex scenes until I read this question. Now thinking about it, I don't feel offended. If anything, it makes Hillary more real. Let's face it. They had sex. Given the times, probably lots of sex. I think the author is doing a great job of portraying Hillary respectfully. I rather read this type of book, than some of the other trash people write and put on main stream media (pizza shop child sex ring.) Now that is offensive!
Colleen I find it highly unethical and violating. I was appalled when I heard the premise of this book. To twist the life of a real person (especially one still living) is such a cheep gimmick. I definitely won't be reading this book.
Megan Strang I just finished this book and in a lot of ways I feel like Bill's sex life/exploits are more wildly imagined and potentially detrimental to the "real" Bill than that of Hillary's "experience" in this book. So, to the question of whether a man would get this same kind of treatment...I think he has in this book.

That said, I do agree it was a bit discomfiting to read sex scenes -- even fictionalized ones -- of living famous people. But I still found the book a weird and interesting read. While the sex itself could probably have been toned down, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the overall premise and story.
Laurie Wigham I would normally say it's not OK, but Sittenfeld did such a spectacular job with "American Wife" (loosely modeled on Laura Bush) that I'll give her a pass. I'm really looking forward to seeing what she does with this book. Don't write her off without reading her work.
Jim It was weird, certainly, reading the sex scenes. While they aren't X-rated, there are details that felt, as you wrote, massively uncomfortable. Perhaps more because the novel itself is a series of anecdotes rather than a cohesive story. The sex scenes seem out of place. Better story-telling in the chosen manner of narrative would have left that out, like episodes of a sitcom. Would a man get this treatment? Sure. If the goal were to what-if along these lines. I think my discomfort is more about the clumsy way Ms. Sittenfeld handles the material (spoiler alert - without lubricant) rather than anything about identity.
Brian Gay I don't think there is an ethical problem as long as the author let's everyone know it is fiction. This type of fiction has been around for a while now and yes there are many written about male public figures. I think it is just that men don't complain about that sort of thing.
Greg Given that Fox Entertainment devotes hours to fictional stories about real people, what's the problem? AND, if people DO have a problem, no one is standing there with a gun, forcing them to buy/read it. Besides, when has ethics ever been an issue in FICTION novels?
Mary Seeing the cover, I thought it was a biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Then when I learned the premise, I was appalled. It really bothers me that, her family would be erased by this “what if” scenario.
Jane Richard Nixon was fictionalised in 1977 in 'The Public Burning' by Robert Coover https://groveatlantic.com/book/the-pu... - I reckon if you scout around you'd find some articles from then (and more recently) on the topic of the ethics around this. There were probably also some springing from Heather Rose's 'The museum of modern love', about Marina Abramovic https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/bo...
Anne Yes, I find it questionable for a lot of reasons. To be specific, I'd have to read at least part of the book, but not sure I want to take the time to read speculative fiction about a real person whose actual life is already remarkable, already quite an open book. This genre doesn't interest me.
Katrina Yes, this book made me uncomfortable. And it wasn't just the mildly explicit sex scene...it was the whole premise of "what if" that I found unpleasant.
Maureen I agree that this felt creepy and disrespectful to Hillary while reading this. So I stopped.
Maya Norton I am reading it now and am incredibly uncomfortable with this.
Rachel Harper I think the sex scenes were a little explicit and that made me uncomfortable, but it's fiction. I kept reminding myself that historical fiction often has intimate details about famous people and we don't bat an eye. I think the bigger issue that was discomforting to me is this feeling I got that, in real life, she sacrificed her future to support her husband and we all paid the price.
Kris Yes, this was a DNF for me for that reason. I loved learning about Hilary's young adulthood, her thought processes, & her family. However, the continued emphasis on how great the sex with Bill was seemed overkill. I doubt a woman writer would have written it this way. I agree that the cover & title make it seem like a biography instead of fan fiction.
Marion Fairweather Yes that's exactly what I thought. I would rather read her autobiography or a book written by an official biographer from which I can learn something about her beliefs and American politics - than a fantasy version of her life.

Perhaps re- imagining the lives of well - known people is a new genre. and we should read this book in its own right as an interesting fictional work judging it on whether or not it is well - written. I don't want to seem to attack this author personally in particular but surely there must be ethical issues surrounding focusing an entire work on a representation of well - known celebrity which could become confused with reality - for financial gain?

Then again - peprhaps it isn't a problem so long as it's made absolutely clear that books of this type are fictional works.
Sharon T. That's exactly how I felt while reading "American Wife". Although it was a very good book, it felt so disrespectful. Don't know if I'll read Rodham or not for that reason.
Julie Newman I couldn't get through this book. It just made me too uncomfy. I'm disappointed because I liked all of Sittenfeld's other novels, and I really liked American Wife. But I did not like this one at all.
Jorge Hinojosa Would a man ever get this treatment? Without question. Is it a silly concept without any respect for the living protagonist? Indeed.
Cathy Totally agree. I might have continued but the descriptive sex felt like a violation.
Fred Svoboda There are so many issues entwined in the relationship of Bill and Hillary, that I think a lot of us would be interested in a full treatment. We're probably going to have to wait decades for an authoritative dual biography, but I wonder if SIttenfeld would have been better off doing a novelization of their actual lives. That said, I do have this on my list of things I would like to read. When Sittenfeld is on ("Eligible," for example) she is just wonderful.
Solomon's It does sound a bit - uhhh - questionable, yes.
Concerning the last question I would say, probably. I can't think of an actual example though so maybe not. Closest thing I can think of was a section of a political/comedy book written by Al Franken in the early 00s about a (real living person) election official and his sexual exploits. I think the book might have been called "Big Fat Liars" or something like that. I don't actually recommend reading it though... and considering it was written by Al Franken it can probably be considered an outlier.
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by Curtis Sittenfeld (Goodreads Author)
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