Punditdad Book Review: An American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Why did she marry that idiot? Find out!

Why did she marry that idiot? Find out!

Punditdad went to a hippy college which taught people to drum in circles and talk about books in a square. The take-aways were that drums are for indigenous peoples, not long haired freaks, and that books should be respected as tools to change how we view the world and the people in them.  Especially people we don’t understand.

Since this is my blog I want to talk about recent readings and my thoughts. I won’t bore you with books that suck but rather books which provoke thoughtful comments and consideration.

An American Wife is a historical fictionalized account of the life of First Lady Laura Bush.  Since my knowledge of the First Lady is limited, I had to read a Wikipedia article on her to find the consistencies and similarities. The names have been changed, the locations have been changed and the sex is probably not motion to motion but an observer of current events and the back cover will know this is Laura Bush. But not just what happened in her life, but how she went from being an elementary school librarian to being married to the President of the Untied States.

To start with, the character of the First Lady, Alice Lindgren, kills her high school sweetheart in an automobile accident on the way to prom.  Now, if you didn’t know that Mrs. Bush killed a young man, you’re not alone. Neither did I.  The anguish and self-loathing created from this terrible accident affected Alice forever. Her life was dramatically altered; she would never know if the teenage boy killed was meant to be her true love or if the life she eventually chose was the right path. That type of event, one that marks a clear delineation between “before” and “after” in ones’ life can happen to us all, but how we react to it is what makes us what we are.

Unfortunately for Alice, in the early 60’s, people didn’t have psychotherapy or heart to heart discussions about these types of events. Her family simply pretended it never happened.  Enter the George Bush character, Charlie Blackwell.  A well-thought out and surprisingly sympathetic character.

—- Personal Aside: I have a doctor friend who knew a person, a champion bass fisherman, who spent the day fishing with George Bush a few years ago. Although the bass fisherman was no screaming liberal, he was certainly someone who wondered how Bush got elected twice.  The fisherman swore up and down that Bush was the funniest, most personable and fun-loving guy he ever spent the day fishing with. Just the type of guy you would want to have a beer with!—-

Charlie is fun loving, hard drinking rich boy who attended Princeton and is one of the heirs to a Wisconsin beef empire. Charlie doesn’t fit in with the rest of the business school blue bloods and has a hard time fitting in with the Blackwell Meat company. His family are loud self-regarding Wisconsin aristocrats. Charlie meets Alice while beginning his losing campaign for Congress and they immediately fall in love. He is a lazy drunken lout. She is an intelligent well read librarian.

So begins a tale of life and marriages, slowly unraveled in a meticulous and thoughtful manner. My wife and I always talk about how you can never really understand another person’s marriage – that you can’t understand the inner workings of it. One of the partners might be a weirdo or a jerk, but somehow that person is a source of love to their partner. It’s unknowable.

Alice helps Charlie find his way through the maze of politics and the pull of the bottle which he eventually rejects in favor of Christian devotion. Mostly she just survives while becoming a victim of her husbands’ struggle for power. How she reconciles her life and justifies her role in the political arena is thoughtful, intriguing and well written. It’s why I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Alice rarely has to make tough choices. Her husband runs for Governor then President and she is dutiful and supportive. Only until the book is nearly finished is Alice confronted with hard questions about her role as First Lady and as a “political wife”.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Laura Bush but she’s certainly not Public Enemy #1. She was never elected and she’s got different polices that the President. I don’t hold her responsible for the atrocities of the Bush Administration but of course, I’ve always wondered how issues like Katrina, the war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay prisoners go over when being discussed at the pillow…if they are discussed at all.

I know if I were president I couldn’t enact policy that I knew my wife fundamentally disagreed with or had serious moral reservations about.  I wouldn’t want to disappoint her, quite frankly. Maybe I don’t have the meddle to make the tough choices? Are tough choices, open to argument in a marriage, part of leadership?

I recemmend An American Wife as a discusion of how we make choices in our lives regarding love and politics and more often than not, let circumstances direct our life paths rather than direct the circumstances to our own will. Here’s the link to the book on Amazon to the book and the link to Laura Bush on Wikipedia if you have glossed over her as I have in the past 8 years. Happy reading.

http://www.amazon.com/American-Wife-Novel-Curtis-Sittenfeld/dp/1400064759/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225300479&sr=8-1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Bush

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for the review. I really hated ‘Prep’ so I was wondering what you’d think of ‘An American Wife’. Sittenfeld’s prose seems very ‘clean’, I guess, but by the end I was left feeling like I’d just wasted an otherwise pleasant plane-ride. I don’t know if it’s enough to get me to read it but reading your posts, at least, is always worthwhile.

  2. Interesting review. I would have totally dismissed this book as an homage, had you not presented it this way. That is REALLY interesting about her having that accident as a young girl. I had no idea either.

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