American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld
Paperback, 638 pages
Published July 2nd 2009 by Black Swan (first published September 2nd 2008)
Alice is married to one of the most powerful men in the world, the President of the United States of America, Charles Blackwell but how did she get there? This is what Curtis Sittenfeld explores in her fictionalised account that is loosely based on Laura Bush. You follow Alice as young woman through to a 60 year old woman living in the White House.
As the narrator, Alice takes you into her confidence as she reveals her secrets, hopes, desires and short-comings. Alice is interesting character as at times you are not certain if she really is naïve, unaware or just plain stupid! The reason for this is primarily the relationship she develops with Charles Blackwell. You find it quite infuriating that a woman of this calibre is with a man like Charles Blackwell. He is not a character that you develop much empathy for. He is childish, selfish and has limited compassion for anyone outside of his family circle. There are moments when Charles is redeemed but they are rare.
Sittenfeld has created a bunch of well-developed characters that really lift off the page. Alice’s Grandmother is one of the most wonderful characters; she is feisty, honest, forthright and funny. There was not of Charles’s mother Maj (short for her majesty) but when she did appear, you cringed. Her abruptness and domineering nature is beautifully realised.
In the White House an interesting question is posed is should the first lady/man take the same views as their partner who is President? That they cannot speak out nor have a view that is different and why we naturally presume they share the same voice. Alice has Democrat leanings views which she does not overtly discuss her concerns for it may impact on her husband’s standings with the people and the media.
Sittenfeld’s writing is quite simply divine. I mean it is purely genius writing that folds you into a novel completely and wholly but at times you feel angered and repulsed by some of the characters. Plus there is so much to unpack in this novel and it remains with you for days afterwards.
A really great read.