Title: American Wife
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Release Date: September 2, 2008
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.25 out of 5
American Wife is the fictional story of the first lady of the United States, Alice Blackwell, formerly Alice Lindgren of Wisconsin. The book starts with her in the White House, and then flashes back across the course of her life, revealing how she ended up as the wife of the President of the United States.
American Wife is the very thinly veiled (and of course, fictionalized) story of Laura Bush, wife of the former President George Bush. Sittenfeld is very up front about the fact that she based the major facts of Alice’s life on Laura’s, fictionalizing the most dramatic events of her life in order to create this epic, yet quiet, story.
Knowing this book was based on Laura Bush was a bit difficult – at every twist and turn, I was wondering what was true and what wasn’t. Of course, Sittenfeld didn’t interview the former first lady, so I went through the novel assuming that the vast majority of it was made up. I figured the major, public life events were true and the others were from Sittenfeld’s active imagination. I do wonder if that subject was addressed in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. In the pre-release copy I read, that section was unfortunately blank.
This was a very quiet, contemplative book. It was mostly introspection – what Alice thought about things, rather than what happened to her. As you can see, though, it’s quite long. This means that there are a lot of slow parts, especially towards the middle and end of the book. The beginning third is actually the most interesting, as events in the young Alice’s life really do shape her. That’s not to say the rest of the book isn’t good, because it really is. It’s just that it has its quicker and slower moving parts, and they’re more noticeable here than in most books because of the novel’s length.
Alice herself was a fascinating character. Sittenfeld did an excellent job, taking a real-life woman, knowing a few notable events from her life, and creating a three-dimensional person around her. As I got to know Alice through this book, I really felt for her as her path led her through difficulties. I often felt like she got the short end of the stick, yet she always had a positive outlook and made the best of every situation. She was a really good, genuine person, and the fact that she was based on a real person made me feel that much more sympathy towards her. I cannot express enough how well Curtis Sittenfelt developed Alice, and how real she was to me.
Despite its length, American Wife is a relatively quick read. Because so much of it is introspection, it’s not heavy. Overall, it’s a very good novel, though the ending comes abruptly and is a little bit of a let-down. This is a book that sat on my shelf for a very long time before I finally got to it, and I’m so glad I gave it a chance. If your book club doesn’t mind long books, this would make a great pick.