In American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld, our heroine is Alice Blackwell, a mother, former librarian, and well-liked First Lady. She is married to Charlie Blackwell, a member of a wealthy, politically connected family. He is a born-again Christian, a teetotaler, and the hawkish, controversial current president. Sound familiar?
To a certain degree, I knew what to expect going in to this book – I knew it was based on Laura Bush and I knew the bare bones of her life story. What I didn’t know was how compelling this book would be. It’s not some trashy story about one woman’s tragedy or a smear campaign against the president. Instead, it’s a thoughtful, interesting look at a woman in a powerful position -- how she got there and how she became the woman she is today.
American Wife is structured into three parts; the first two focused on Alice’s childhood in Wisconsin and the early years of her relationship with Charlie. The final section takes place during current events – a Supreme Court nomination and the Middle East war are at the center of the character’ attention. By far, I preferred the first two sections of the book over the last section, which felt like a lot of wishful thinking about the real First Lady. The early years are filled with interesting characters – the stand-out for me was Alice’s grandmother Emilie Lindgren – and emotional situations. In comparison, the last section, which takes place during current events, felt jumpy and forced.
Even with its flaws, this is a great read and I would definitely recommend it. Thank you to the Librarything Early Reviewer program for the opportunity to read this book before publication.