American Wife is the story of Alice Blackwell, maiden name Lindgren, from her days as just a young girl to becoming the wife of a President of the United States. It’s actually a fictional version of the life of Laura Bush as Sittenfeld attempts to imagine the First Lady’s thoughts and feelings at this difficult juncture in American life.
The main concern I had with this book was whether it would transcend the “buzz” and actually hold its own as a story, rather than as a book destined only to gain readership based on shock value. It has plenty of shock value, although not really if you think about it – both Alice and Charlie are presented as real people who have had premarital sex, who swear (in Charlie’s case), and who suffer differences of opinion. In a sense, it brings some humanity to people who seem like cold machines at times.
Does it hold its own as a novel, though? Would anyone read it if it wasn’t about Laura Bush under a different name?
I think so, yes. I liked it. I never struggled to read it and it didn’t drop off in the middle for me like it did for many of my fellow bloggers. The beginning was definitely the best, as Alice’s youth and early adulthood are the times when she is most compelling and relatable. She goes through very human struggles – dating various unsuitable men, struggling to buy her own house and deal with her aging parents and grandmother, and dedicating herself to her job. When she marries Charlie, she transcends her middle class lifestyle as a librarian and ascends into the elite, which separated her reality from my reality by quite a lot. In the middle of the book, it starts to skip around, so their daughter Ella’s growth is haphazard (she goes from child to teenager to adult VERY quickly), and all of a sudden she and Charlie are in their sixties and in the White House. That’s really my only problem with the book.
Also, this is marketed as an alternate of Laura Bush’s life, but in all honesty I doubt she’s actually thinking these things. I’m not into examining the life of public figures, but this book made me do some research and I think Sittenfeld is liberal with her ideas and her changes of their lives. It’s fiction, so that’s acceptable, but some of the articles out there make it sound like a shocking biography with a different name put on. It’s not. It’s just an idea of what a woman married to President Bush might be thinking now, not necessarily what Mrs. Bush is thinking.
It does hold its own away from the media attention. It’s an interesting, thoughtful book and I enjoyed it. I liked Alice and sometimes even Charlie (this shocked me as much as it shocks you), although mostly he annoyed me. I think I would have enjoyed it even more if it wasn’t attached to the current White House, in all honesty, although Alice’s fictional life makes for a good story. I’d recommend this book, and I’m looking forward to reading more reviews as they appear. Preorder this book on Amazon.
Interested in a free book? Don’t miss my giveaway here of The Streets of Babylon by Carina Burman!