American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Many will be familiar with Sittenfeld’s popular book Prep, a book that I highly recommend. It is a moving and realistic portrayal of one young girl’s navigation of the privileged realm of the private boarding school.
While American Wife possesses all of Sittenfeld’s strong narrative qualities, it is in fact more wide-ranging in its scope and extensive in its character depth and is a very different book.
What’s the book about? Laura Bush. This hardly seems like a book that I would want to read, much less end up raving about. And yet, I really do want to rave about it. I find this book fascinating and intelligent and illuminating. Here’s what Sittenfeld does: she writes a fictionalized account of the ex-first lady’s life based upon extensive research she did into Laura Bush’s life. By fictionalizing this account, (our main character is in fact named Alice Blackwell), Sittenfeld is able to narrate her way into the mindset and life of her character while taking some creative license. Sittenfeld’s book is dense. It is ultimately a book that humanizes both Laura Bush as well as her husband. It moves from the time when Laura was a school librarian, working on her own and spending time at night creating elaborate creative projects for her students, up through the relative present, showing the moment when the U.S. declares war on Iraq. Sittenfeld creates scenes of Bush family opulence, recreating their various residences as well as family vacation retreats. Sittenfeld also brings us into the various geographical locales that the family moves to over the years. We learn of Laura Bush’s painful high school accident where she was responsible for the death of a friend in an automobile accident. We learn of her deep love for the president amidst her awareness of his very real flaws.
Read this book. You will come away with a deeper understanding of Laura Bush and her marriage to her husband.