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Review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife

by Curtis Sittenfeld


            American Wife is the account of the life of the First Lady of the United States of America. It’s fictional, but it is heavily based on the life of Laura Bush and her husband, George. In this sweeping novel Alice Blackwell traces her steps from her childhood in Wisconsin and a tragedy that has haunted her all of her life to the early stages of her relationship with Charlie Blackwell all the way to the White House. Throughout the book she does her best to fit in the Blackwell way of life; but a demure, small-town, liberal-minded woman has quite a tough time meshing her ideas with one of the Republican Party’s powerhouse families.


            Most of Sittenfeld’s book flows very well; I drifted quickly through Alice’s childhood and early adulthood. Sometimes I wanted to strangle Alice – the choices she makes at times! – but she’s a very realistic representation of an average woman raised to heights beyond her natural desires. Charlie Blackwell, her ambitious husband, is never satisfied with his wealth or position in society, so there is a constant tension between his desire to make a mark on the world and Alice’s own desires for the domestic tranquility of a ‘normal’ family life. When the Blackwells arrive in the White House, however, the book seems to switch gears. Sittenfeld’s narrative becomes rather preachy and clearly critical of the Bush administration.   Not that I don’t agree with her on several points, but I felt she interrupted her storytelling flow and it was jarring. 


            Charlie Blackwell, Bush surrogate, does come across as a crude-mouthed jerk in much of the book. But he’s also affectionate toward his wife, genuine in his religious conversion, and almost pitiable as he reaches mid-life and realizes that he’s done virtually nothing with his life. I thought his character was given fair treatment, but I suspect many would disagree.


            There’s quite a lot of hot, steamy sex sprinkled throughout the book. In some ways, it is disturbing, because I do not want to think about the Bushes that way. (Eew.) A lot of the sex did feel gratuitous and I didn’t think it did much to move the story forward.


            I don’t know very much about Laura Bush, so I really couldn’t say the full extent of fact. vs. fiction in the story. American Wife definitely parallels her life in many ways, but it’s extremely important to remember that it is still a work of fiction. I enjoyed it and would recommend it. The relationship dynamics between Alice and Charlie and Alice’s struggle to reconcile her great love for her husband and her disagreement with many of his core policies make for an engrossing, beautiful story.


To read more about American Wife, buy it or add it to your wishlist, click here.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 12th, 2008 02:09 pm (UTC)
Great review. I have this book on my TBR pile, but the length seems daunting to me.
Oct. 13th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed American Wife. The sex was a bit much, though perhaps it was just to show that GW is a horndog.
Oct. 19th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
the cover had me expecting it to be about Jaqueline Kennedy and would have had me interested a little bit, but if it is based on the Bush's I am running the other way. And to know anything about them sexually eewwwwwwwwww
Oct. 20th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
The sex was definitely a horrible surprise. The mental images still haunt me...but overall I did enjoy the book, which I had not 100% expected, because I am not a Bush fan.
Oct. 20th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
This book had come up in my list of recommendations on my Amazon account. It sounded kind-of interesting but I think the fact that it was based on Laura Bush threw me off a little and I was somewhat afraid that it would be tainted with political views about the Bush administration.

That it has sex in it is also slightly disturbing. I, like you, would prefer not to think about the Bushes that way. >.
Oct. 23rd, 2008 05:05 am (UTC)
Wonderful review! You said: "There’s quite a lot of hot, steamy sex sprinkled throughout the book. In some ways, it is disturbing, because I do not want to think about the Bushes that way. (Eew.) A lot of the sex did feel gratuitous and I didn’t think it did much to move the story forward.'

Eew is right, it is about as bad as imaging your parents having sex. I think I'm gonna be sick. LOL!
Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
Great review. As I was reading it, I was becoming very interested in the book. Unfortunately, as others had pointed out, I was greatly disturbed by linking "based on the Bushes" and "hot, steamy sex". I am afraid these images would be too much for my poor mind too handle. *Shivers* Egad!!
Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
Gosh, I'm beginning to think that one line in the review is going to kill any book sales that my thoughts would otherwise encourage!
Nov. 2nd, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
This sounds really interesting, even with the gross sex mental pictures that may occur while reading. I may have to check it out.
Nov. 13th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
Sounds interesting, I think I'll pick it up, thanks.
Mar. 23rd, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
I just finished this last night and, lo and behold, the sex didn't really bother me. I was so concentrated on it as a work of fiction that I had no real problems. Thanks for the recommendation, I enjoyed it so much!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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