As I tweeted half way through American Wife, “I really thought I would like American Wife, but reading all about W’s sex life is starting to get to me. It’s just…awkward.” And it is; it’s so awkward reading about Laura’s first time to the frequency with George.
Of course, American Wife isn’t about two characters named Laura and George Bush of Texas; rather it’s about Alice and Charlie Blackwell of Wisconsin. But, seriously, throw in a few “y’a’lls,” give their daughter, Ella, a twin, and you’d never know the difference. Sittenfeld doesn’t try to hide the fact that this is the story, albeit fictional story, of Laura Bush, a woman who seems so smart and yet, well, you know, but its so in your face that I got squeamish every time Laura and George Alice and Charlie had sex because that image was in a my head every single time.
Moving on… American Wife is divided into four sections –- one for each address that Alice lives at –- and the first section when she was still a teenager was the best part of the entire book. It’s moving, emotional, and plot driven, while the remainder of the novel is more telling than showing. And the final section when Alice lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue contained a lot of summarizing and explanation that it was tough to get through. Overall the book needs more dialogue, more scenes, more something.
Alice’s transformation for an interesting, young librarian to the Stepford Wife in the end is never really explained because the book jumps over whole decades. From the second section to the third we lose about ten or so years, and their time in the governor’s mansion is only mentioned in passing.
The beginning is fantastic, but as soon as you reach the accident, it all beings to go down hill. American Wife is too true to be fiction, yet too fictional to be true. It borrowed too much, but explained too little, and even if none of its true, I still feel like Sittenfeld invaded Laura’s life. She’s very in tune to Alice’s feelings in those early years and the writing style is very flowery and flowing –- in a good way –- but overall, American Wife left me feeling squeamish and like I had invaded Laura’s privacy.
Though, as a fellow GoodReads review said, “The best part about this book is the name she gave the Carl Rove character. Hank Ucker. Go ahead and add the “F” yourself.”
- Sittenfeld, Curtis. American Wife. New York: Random House, 2008. Print. 555 pgs. ISBN: 9781400064755. Source: Advanced Review Copy.