American Wife: A Novel Hardcover – Sep 2 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Sittenfeld tracks, in her uneven third novel, the life of bookish, naïve Alice Lindgren and the trajectory that lands her in the White House as first lady. Charlie Blackwell, her boyishly charming rake of a husband, whose background of Ivy League privilege, penchant for booze and partying, contempt for the news and habit of making flubs when speaking off the cuff, bears more than a passing resemblance to the current president (though the Blackwells hail from Wisconsin, not Texas). Sittenfeld shines early in her portrayal of Alice's coming-of-age in Riley, Wis., living with her parents and her mildly eccentric grandmother. A car accident in her teens results in the death of her first crush, which haunts Alice even as she later falls for Charlie and becomes overwhelmed by his family's private summer compound and exclusive country club membership. Once the author leaves the realm of pure fiction, however, and has the first couple deal with his being ostracized as a president who favors an increasingly unpopular war, the book quickly loses its panache and sputters to a weak conclusion that doesn't live up to the fine storytelling that precedes it. (Sept.)
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“A well-researched book that imagines what lies behind that placid façade of the first lady…Ms. Sittenfeld was not out to sensationalize but to sympathize.
–Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
“Brilliant…[A] triumph…Curtis Sittenfeld has provided a plausible secret history of an American embarrassment – and a grand entertainment.”
–Joe Klein, Time Magazine
“A smart and sophisticated portrait of a high-profile political wife…Sittenfeld has an astonishing gift for creating characters that take up residence in readers’ heads.”
–Connie Schultz,Washington Post Book World
“Sittenfeld boldly imagines the inner life of a first lady…an intimate and daring story…American Wife is a vicarious experience, an up-close portrait of the interior life of a very complicated woman…cinematic.”
“The novel, Sittenfeld’s most fully realized yet, artfully evokes the painful reverberations of the past.”
“Compelling...enormously sympathetic...Sittenfeld’s remarkable gifts as a storyteller draw you back into the fictional world of Alice Blackwell. She writes in the sharp, realistic tradition of Philip Roth and Richard Ford–clear, unpretentious prose; metaphors so spot-on you barely notice them. Sittenfeld may have lifted the set pieces from a real woman’s life, but in the process she has created a wise and insightful character who is entirely her own.”
–Time Out New York
“Ambitious…Sittenfeld installs herself deep within the psyche of the tight-lipped wife of the president and emerges with an evenhanded, compassionate look at her mind and heart…powerfully intimate. Grade: A”
“A masterful highbrow-lowbrow mash-up that satisfies as ass-kicking literary fiction
and juicy gossip simultaneously.”
“With American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld has deftly crossed an extraordinarily high wire…I read American Wife in just two or three delicious sittings, struck by the granular clarity of the author’s descriptions and the down-to-earth believability of the story, bewitched by the charming, frustrating woman at the center of it: Laura Bush.”
— Ana Marie Cox, The New York Observer
“Curtis Sittenfeld is one of our best contemporary chroniclers of class and caste… Sittenfeld imagines this couple so deliciously and so plausibly… Curtis Sittenfeld invents a deep, messy, sympathetic life for a public person whose surface is all we'll ever know.”
— St Petersburg Times
“Immensely readable. It's a nuanced portrait of a woman in a singularly fascinating position.”
— Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A broad, deep and utterly convincing account…a portrait of a woman and a marriage that also brings the reader as close to the probable essence of the outgoing president as any other novelist, or any biographer, is likely to get.”
— Portland Oregonian
“We love Sittenfeld. We love her wry, razor-sharp observations. We love her funny, straightforward honesty…[American Wife] is an empathetic, fascinating, and gorgeously written story about a 30-year marriage. We devoured it in one night.”
— Boston Magazine
“Endearing and poignant, humorous and enlightening, American Wife is a must-read for Sittenfeld fans--and a good first read for would-be converts.”
— Fredericksburg Freelance Star
“An entertaining, racy tale that's inspired more than a bit by the life of our current president's wife, Laura Bush…A well-told tale that will leave many readers wondering: How much of Sittenfeld's story might be closer to fact than fiction?”
— St Louis Post Dispatch
“The scope and detail of American Wife are reminiscent of Richard Russo. Like Russo, she creates characters from the ground up, ancestry, neighborhood, culture and all.”
“American Wife promises to be another sensation.”
- Dayton Daily News
“American Wife is a sparkling, sprawling novel…A ridiculously gifted writer…Sittenfeld has harnessed her talents perfectly in American Wife, producing an exhilirating epic infused with humor, pain, and hope.”
“Widely anticipated and vastly entertaining… An intelligent, well-crafted, psychologically astute novel”
–New York Sun
“Highly engaging…fascinating depth.”
— Seattle Times
“A well-researched, juicy roman a clef about the current first lady.”
— Boston Globe
“Ambitious…entertaining…a parable of America in the years of the second Bush presidency.”
–Joyce Carol Oates, cover of The New York Times Book Review
“With her first line - “Have I made terrible mistakes?” - Alice Blackwell (a fictional First Lady modeled after Laura Bush) reels us into a gripping epic of public and private lives. A gem.”
“This searing page-turner will make you wonder what unspoken promises lie behind the victory smiles of any power couple.”
“What is Laura Bush thinking? That’s the question Sittenfeld ponders in her novel,
loosely based on the life of our First Lady…Just as she did in Prep, Sittenfeld masterfully deflates
the middle-class fairy tale — rose gardens and all.”
“Bold…conveys in convincing, thoroughly riveting detail a life far more complicated than it appears on the surface…What she does here, in prose as winning as it is confident, is to craft out of the first-person narration a compelling, very human voice, one full of kindness and decency. And, as if making the Bush-like couple entirely sympathetic is not enough of a feat in itself, she also provides many rich insights into the emotional ebb and flow of a long-term marriage.”
–Booklist, Upfront and Starred review
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Top Customer Reviews
If you have read the editorial reviews, then you already know the outline of the story, so to save time and space, I will not repeat what has already been written. Suffice it to say, as we come to segments three and four (Alice's family life with arrogant, self-centered, thoughtless, future president Charlie Blackwell,) the story fizzles. There is a rehash of old wounds, hurts and life events to the point where it appears the author was merely trying to fill up space. Just when the reader anticipates life will be exciting as a president's wife, the story loses interest. The ending was a rather preditable, uneventful, fairy tale conclusion which, after 555 pages, left me feeling "a somewhat interesting read, but thank goodness it's over." The book had a huge potential if only the captivating beginning had carried through to the end.
American Wife is at its heart the story of Alice and Charlie Blackwell. We first meet Alice at a tender age when she has accompanied her grandmother to the grocery store to buy hearts of palm. The year is 1954, and she is an only child, an innocent little girl we are given to believe. She lives with her parents and grandmother in Riley, Wisconsin.
The innocent child grows into a proper young lady who loves books. Tragedy strikes when at 17 a boy to whom she is attracted, Andrew, is killed in an auto accident. It's Alice's fault as she had run a stop sign and tore into his car. His death has a deep effect upon her.
Some years later, at the age of 31, she will meet and marry Charlie Blackstone, the wealthy, hell-raising son of a wealthy Republican family. Little did she know that the Charlie she deems "churlish" will some day be the President of the United States and she First Lady of our land.
Yes, the scene is Wisconsin rather than Texas, but the comparisons, imagined or real, to the life of Laura Bush are obvious. The author has been quoted as saying she " hates George W. And yet I think his wife is sincere, down-to-earth, smart -- and a role model for all Americans. "
An imagined First Lady or Laura Bush revealed? Listen and decide for yourself.
- Gail Cooke
But if Sittenfeld makes free with the ending, she does bring life to Charlie Blackwell and his wife Alice. We see what may have been the attraction between the real George Bush and his wife.
I enjoyed this book and, while long, never bored me in the least.