American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
Release date: Tuesday, September 2, 2008
This is among the best books I have read this year. I actually got frustrated while reading this book because it is yet another strong contender for best book of the month, and I have no idea how I am going to choose.
“American Wife” is the fictionalized story of Laura Bush from childhood to, essentially, present day. Not knowing too much about Laura Bush – other than that she was an elementary school librarian, she killed a guy in a car crash when she was younger, and she is married to George Bush/mother of Jenna and Barbara – I have absolutely no idea how many liberties Sittenfeld took with Laura’s life, other than changing names; Laura becomes Alice Lindgren and George becomes Charlie Blackwell, of the Blackwell meat fortune.
I have never known quite what to think about Laura Bush. It has always seemed that, if I knew more about her, I would like her a good deal more than I do her husband, but I’ve never had anything to back that up and, as a result, am fairly ambivalent about her. Alice Blackwell, née Lindgren, however, I simply adored. Everything about her seemed real and genuine. She was born middle-class or lower middle-class and both reveled in and felt guilty about the upper-class lifestyle she married into with Charlie. Similarly, when Charlie’s problems with alcohol worsened her response seemed conflicted in a perfectly reasonable way. “American Wife” skips through some large periods of time but, in my opinion, does so flawlessly. I felt that the important aspects of the intervening years were communicated in a natural manner; the book was already 551 pages long so I can’t imagine adding any ‘filler’ years, but nor can I imagine the story working as well if any of it was removed.
I cannot remember the last time I so identified with a character, the last time someone in a book (even in a biography or memoir) felt so authentic. No matter how you feel about the Bush family, do not let politics get in the way of reading this remarkable novel.