American Wife: A Novel

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Hardcover, 2008

Call number




Random House (2008), Edition: 1, 576 pages


On what might become one of the most significant days in her husband's presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led her to the White House--and the repercussions of a life lived, as she puts it, "almost in opposition to itself." How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona?--From publisher description.

Media reviews

Sittenfeld, author of Prep, has written an intelligent, bighearted novel about a controversial political dynasty. It's also the summer's most delicious read, a book you can guzzle like a cold, creamy milk shake.
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“American Wife” is most engaging in its early chapters, when Alice Lindgren isn’t yet Alice Blackwell but an insecure young woman, haunted by the memory of the beautiful boy she’d accidentally killed as a girl yet dedicated to teaching and to a life defined by books. After she meets Charlie
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Blackwell and becomes his helpmeet, her independence swallowed up in his ambition, Alice seems to lose definition and, especially in the novel’s final, weakest section, titled “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” to become a generic figure of celebrity proffering bromides to an adulatory public.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member ChicGeekGirl21
It always amazes me when Sittenfeld's novels are referred to as "beach books". I wonder if the people who say that have actually read her work, or if they automatically assume that any book about the lives of women must automatically be low-brow chick lit. American Wife, like its predecessor Prep,
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is anything but low-brow. It is a complex, moving portrait of a young woman--a polite children's librarian with quietly left-leaning politics who marries a charismatic, if buffoonish man from a wealthy family who becomes an unpopular president stuck in a quagmire of an unpopular war.

Sound familiar? Of course, Sittenfeld's heroine is named Alice Lindgren, not Laura Welch. And the man she marries is Charlie Blackwell, not George Bush, but all too true details of the real Laura Bush's life are woven into the narrative remind the reader what the thesis of this fictional novel is REALLY about. What must it be like to have married a man whose politics you disagree with--especially if that man's livelihood is politics. Do you speak out? Do you stay quiet and just be a supportive wife? Do you--gasp--vote against him in both elections?

American Wife isn't all about Alice Lindgren's life as the president's wife--that section only comprises maybe a fourth of the novel. The entire first third describes Alice's youth and teen years, during which the most defining moment of her life occurs: during the summer before her senior year in high school, Alice runs a stop sign on the way to a party and kills a classmate, Andrew, a boy she has a crush on. This is something that actually happened to the real Laura Bush, and it becomes the crux of the entire novel. Although Sittenfeld describes, and later brings up the accident in only a handful of pages, it is the singular event on which the entire book pivots. The unanswered question is, if Alice had not killed Andrew; if they had gone on to date and even marry, would her life have been completely different? The fact that Alice ends up Alice Blackwell seems at times to be a mistake. Alice feels, deep inside, she should have never become the first lady. Her rightful place was to be a children's librarian in Wisconsin and married to her high school sweetheart--not as the incredibly beloved wife of an incredibly incompetent president.

Sittenfeld's novel is filled with restrained emotion and longing, embodied by the quiet, polite, intelligent, and secretly conflicted main character. Like Sittenfeld's other books, the main character is likable enough, but not charismatic. Sittenfeld disarms the reader by creating heroines that come off as a bit boring--heroines that observe more than act--but ultimately seem more real than grandiose, larger than life characters seen in other works of fiction. In this way, Sittenfeld is able to dissect life and relationships in ways that other authors cannot. She doesn't force the reader to like her characters.

In American Wife, Sittenfeld attempts to shed light of what Laura Bush's inner life must have been like before and during George W. Bush's reign. Does she succeed? Who knows. But the novel, though at times melodramatic and its first lady a little too apologetic, never seems untrue. In any case, fiction often rings more true than the reality we think we see in biographies and the news everyday. Maybe Sittenfeld has created a portrait of Laura Bush truer than Laura Bush herself would like to admit.
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LibraryThing member elbakerone
Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife: A Novel, is the coming-of-age story of Alice Lindgren Blackwell - a small-town girl from Wisconsin who eventually becomes First Lady of the United States of America. The novel begins with Alice's childhood. Events of trauma and tragedy scar her early days and
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follow her as haunting memories through college, her early career as a librarian and eventually her courtship and marriage to Charles Blackwell - the man who is inevitably elected president of the United States.

I really enjoyed the voice that Sittenfeld used to narrate the book. Alice was a well developed character with an equal balance of strong personality and inner turmoil. Her conflicts are realized without being cliche or overly dramatic, and the reader is drawn to her with empathy and understanding. The novel as a whole, though, seemed to be lacking focus. The early chapters were a mix of family and friendship drama, peppered with some steamy romance but the later portion was centered on modern political commentary.

I was also unaware at the start of the novel that Alice Blackwell was a fictionalized version of Laura Bush. It was not until her relationship develops with Charles - an ivy league, but unintelligent party boy who finds religion and obsesses over leaving a legacy - that the parallel was unmasked. As First Lady, Alice contrasts her own liberal views and upbringing with her husband's conservative policies in a way that provokes the question as to whether or not the Bush family deals with similar marital discord.

Overall, American Wife was an interesting but not exceptional novel. I liked the characters but I found the middle of the book slower in pace, as I was eager to read about Alice's role as the president's wife more so than the events that led her there. The blur of fiction and modern reality provided an interesting twist yet I may have enjoyed it more had I known ahead of time what to expect.
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LibraryThing member tara35
I'll never forget how I felt when reading Curtis Sittenfeld's first novel, Prep. Prep is the story of a teenager that goes away to a boarding school, by choice, and finds herself among people of a different economic background than herself. I felt her pain, her awkwardness, at times I cringed at
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the situations she found herself in. Sittenfeld has the gift of understanding human emotion, what people's innermost thoughts are, and she brilliantly transforms this understanding into words.

American Wife is Sittenfeld's third novel, and the third that I have read. It is the tale of Alice Blackwell, from her youth, to young adulthood, to life as a wife and mother, and finally to the White House where she is First Lady of the United States. Alice is written as a real woman, one that is flawed and yet likable, that suffers tragedy but is able to move on. I found myself immediately drawn into this novel, into the life of Alice, an incredibly well-realized character whose mind I felt privy to. At 550 pages, this is not a short book, but I found myself losing track of time and turning pages well past my usual bedtime.

What you need to know, and what you can read about on the web if you care to look, is that American Wife has stirred up a bit of controversy. Because the life of Alice, and the characteristics of her husband, bear a resemblance to the current First Lady and her husband. The portrayal of Alice is not unfavorable; that of her husband is another story. Some have cited, and published the 'steamy' scenes between the main characters. I decided to forget about all this and read it for what it was, which is a novel. Which was all well and good until I came to the last section of the book when Alice and her husband move into the White House and the similarities between fiction and real life become awfully hard to ignore. I won't discuss my personal politics besides saying that I am looking forward to a new administration. I will say that I didn't find the novel offensive, though the behavior of the President behind-the-scenes made me roll my eyes in dismay and embarrassment. What I most wondered, was why Sittenfeld chose to base her novel on these very real people. This article by Sittenfeld, entitled Why I Love Laura Bush, helps explain it to some degree. Obviously the idea of this book goes back at least to 2004.

I really liked this book, though the last section didn't hold my interest as much as the previous ones. There is never really a great turning point in this book, and maybe that is because we already know what is going to happen, how things end up for Alice. For the most part, this was a compelling read, and an interesting insight into what private life might be like for these most public people.

American Wife will be published by Random House in September. Many thanks to them for this advance copy.
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LibraryThing member seekingflight
I wanted to like this book, about an ordinary small town girl who grows up to be the First Lady. It was an interesting premise, particularly because of the parallels drawn with Laura and George Bush, and I imagine it would spark some interesting discussion if read for a book group. And yet I
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didn’t really engage with the characters, story or style. For me, the story moved too slowly, and superficially, with too many unnecessary details, too many gaps in the narrative, and not enough momentum or coherency. And yet, I also felt like I should have liked this better, and I was perhaps missing something ...
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LibraryThing member manogirl
Wow. When I requested this, I had no idea it was a fictionalized account of Laura Bush's life. It didn't take long to figure it out, and while I somewhat liked the beginning 250-300 pages, the book became less interesting after Alice married Charlie. And as the book moved into his presidency, it
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seemed compressed, and the more it compressed, the less the book seemed like a good piece of fiction. It started to feel TOO thinly veiled. I didn't know what I was getting into, and as I really started to figure it out, it got less interesting.

I have to say that I didn't like Sittenfeld's first book, I skipped her second, and I only requested this because I thought a novel about a first lady might be okay. And it was only okay. I guess I just wish it wasn't so transparently a novel about George and Laura Bush. I also wish that Alice hadn't been such a meepy, wishy-washy character by the end of the book. If this is how Laura Bush really is, I'm sorry for her. It seems highly unlikely, though.

And! There was no real resolution. I hate that.

So would I recommend this book? No, not really. The end of the book is simply too weak. It's too bad, because the more I think about it, the more I realize how compelling I found the first half of the book, which makes the end even more disappointing. I couldn't put down the book for a few days. And then last night, at the end of it, I just wanted to put it down and be rid of it.
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LibraryThing member cataylor
American Wife begins as an intriguing novel - if you can separate yourself from the real personalities involved - but as it progresses that became increasingly more difficult for me. The sex scenes made me cringe because of the visuals I really didn't want to have and the last 125 pages I only
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finished because I had come so far with the book. My overall impression is that the author has written a 558 page excuse for why Laura Bush has done nothing noteworthy in her 8 years as First Lady.
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LibraryThing member alluvia
Ultimately, a yawner after a sprightly and entertaining first few chapters. I admit some political bias and reaction - once I realized who the fictional politician was a reflection of, I immediately disliked him so much that I didn't want to follow the story any longer.
LibraryThing member mamashepp
There were some things I liked about this book but I was completely distracted by the idea that the lead character is loosely based on Laura Bush.
LibraryThing member comato
I did a little research online before picking up this book, reading Sittenfeld’s article on from a few years ago about why she loves Laura Bush. Though the liberal Sittenfeld does not agree with the politics of the Bush White House, she sees hidden behind Laura’s media-shy public
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facade a likeable person. She has discovered that Laura Bush loves fiction and, not just that, it’s the sort of fiction that Sittenfeld, herself, appreciates. I think that this literary connection probably had a lot to do with Sittenfeld’s decision to write “American Wife,” a sympathetic fictional take on Laura Bush’s life.

There were definitely things that I enjoyed about this book. I liked getting to know Alice, the book’s main character, as well as her family. The beginning of the book was well-developed as Alice grows up in a small town with her parents and grandmother. Eventually, though, I felt that the book became choppy and uneven. I think this was because the farther along I got in the book, the more closely it hewed to current events. I found it hard to focus on Alice because I kept pulling myself out of the world of the novel when I recognized the tie-ins to reality (Oh, look, it’s Rove and he has a funny nickname, but it’s not turd-blossom. Oh, and that’s Cheney! And Rice!) The large chunks of time that the book skips over didn’t help to keep my interest, either

So I guess I’ll say that the character of Alice did make me think that Laura Bush might be a more interesting person than I would have thought her to be (not that I spend a lot of time thinking about Laura Bush -- I am not Curtis Sittenfeld). And maybe I understand another one of Sittenfeld’s themes, that Laura Bush shouldn’t be culpable for the actions of her husband; that it should be possible to appreciate her as a person without being influenced by whatever opinion you may have of the President. But I felt like Alice’s character was smushed into the skeleton of events that Sittenfeld wanted to reference. Overall, I was disappointed in this book.

As a relatively small gripe, the cover of the book annoyed me. The misleading poofy wedding dress image has nothing to do with the actual plot of the book. Is Alice a woman who had a princess-y, society wedding with a huge ring on her gloved fingers? No, and that’s part of what made her an interesting character (at least in the beginning of the book).

I’m going to put “Primary Colors,” on my reading list now. Perhaps it, with its similar fictional-retelling-of-political-lives, will give me a greater appreciation of “American Wife”?
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LibraryThing member victorianrose869

This book has received a lot of attention due to the fact that it’s rumored to be based on the life of First Lady Laura Bush, but even without that I feel it stands out on its own, without the titillating under-note of reality tv drama everyone seems to hunger for now. That Laura Bush is
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the inspiration behind the character of Alice Lindgren is indisputable, if for no other reason than it uses as one of its most relevant plot points a tragic car accident Alice is involved in as a teenager, mirroring almost precisely a similar occurrence in Laura Bush’s early years. It’s a worthy point on which to turn a story, given how significantly something like that would shape a person’s life. The emotions around it are so complex and conflicting that it’s painful to try and wrap your brain around it. How do you express and come to terms with a grief that no one, including you – especially you - feel you’re entitled to? How profoundly would that form every detail of your future – as a woman, a wife, a mother, a reluctant public figure, a human being?

I did not expect to be as affected by this book as I was. I didn’t even expect to like it, honestly, since I tend to hate just about everything that shows up on the NYT bestseller list, and only got it in the first place because I chose to review it for the Amazon Vine program and my copy was free. Yet I turned the last page feeling like I’d been scrubbed, somehow, or yet another door had been opened. It’s one of those books – or at least it was for me – that took me out of myself and at the same time made me look inward.

Divided into four parts, it takes us through the four major stages of Alice’s life up until this point: childhood, young womanhood, marriage and motherhood, and lastly, middle age and all the self-examination that time of life seems to bring with it - sometimes healing, other times breaking open old wounds afresh. The weakest part of the book is the last section spent chronicling the time spent in the White House, probably because it was more obvious there than anywhere else that the author was clearly envisioning both of the Bushes and using her imagination to step inside their shoes. While it was perhaps a worthy effort, it came off with a false ring, at least to me.

Aside from that, though, I tried very hard to read this without Laura and George Bush in mind, and for the most part was successful. A lot of reviewers seemed to focus heavily on the Charlie Blackwell character, glomming on to him as if he were actually George Bush, and as if this were HIS story, which it decidedly is not. It’s not George Bush’s nor is it even Charlie Blackwell’s. It’s Alice’s.

I read this simply as a story about a quiet, private woman who prefers the company of books and children most of all, is haunted by a few old but significant demons as most of us are, who happens to fall in love with and marry a politician whose life would catapult her own into a spotlight unnatural and repugnant to her but which she accepts with grace. It’s well-written, very in-depth, featuring a fully fleshed-out protagonist. I enjoyed and was moved by it.
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LibraryThing member bachaney
Curtis Sittenfeld's "American Wife" is a wonderful read about an ordinary woman who finds herself married to the President of the United States. The book tells the story of Alice Lindgren, a small town girl who grows up to become a librarian before falling hard for wealthy jokester Charlie
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Blackwell. Alice stands by Charlie as he struggles with alcoholism, then buys a baseball team, before becoming governor of Wisconsin, then President. Throughout Alice questions whether she made the right choice in marrying Charlie--a conservative, born again Christian--whose political ideas clash with her own liberal opinions.

If you've been thinking that this story sounds familiar, that's because Sittenfeld's Alice is a close double for Laura Bush. The similarities between these two women, as well as the author's professed "love" for Laura, cannot be ignored as you read this novel, and its hard not to let your opinion of Laura cloud Alice. But Sittenfeld's portrayal of her narrator is so sympathetic, you find yourself really liking this woman, even if you do wish she would push back a little harder against her husband and his family as they continually steamroll her.

I found this book extremely readable, and the first three sections in particular read very quickly. Although the final section of the book, which takes place in 2007, felt a little rushed and forced, it provided a nice conclusion to the contradictions of Alice's life.

I would recommend this book to any woman--friends and foes of the current administration alike. Just remember, this isn't actually Laura Bush--just a stylized view of what she could be.
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LibraryThing member poolays
I really enjoyed this book. It was kind of a slow read, not in a dull or tedious way, just not a page turner. But I read it at a time when slow was just right for me.

It is the story of Alice Blackwell, growing up in a small town with her parents and grandmother, living through a tragedy at 17,
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falling in love with someone totally unlikely, being a wife, mother and sister-in-law in a circle very different from her upbringing, and finally as First Lady.

It rang mostly true for me. I could imagine being Alice. The parallels to Laura Bush are intriguing, and I have no idea which parts are close to truth. It really didn't matter, it just gave it a sense of currency. Alice always seems to have an ability to kind of watch her life at the same time as she is living it. This detachment serves her well in the public eye, and gives the reader insight. Alice is a strong, principled woman, who thinks things through carefully before acting, and often watches life unfold. Although she often doesn't agree with her husband, she clearly loves him unconditionally. I have to admire that, even though I don't always get it. I especially liked the idea that the First Lady could see her husband's job, President, as his job, and not something she was responsible for. I never really thought about it.

Alice's favorite book is The Giving Tree. It provides an apt parallel to her life. In that book the boy takes from the tree throughout his life, and the tree, a female, gives unconditionally. I have never liked The Giving Tree, but could see how Alice would choose it as her favorite. There are references to it periodically in her life, and she lives her life very much like that tree.

All in all, well worth the read.
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LibraryThing member saracuse9
I'll admit that when I picked this book up in Barnes and Noble, I picked it up because I liked the dress on the cover. Upon reading the back of the book, I decided it sounded interesting and brought it home. I also did not know that this book had anything to do with Laura Bush - had I known, I
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probably wouldn't have read it.

I liked this book for the most part - I liked the tone, how it spanned so many years and how Sittenfeld showed different, defining chapters of Alice Lindgren Blackwell's life. The accident which happened when Alice was 16 and which haunted her for the rest of her life was the episode that made Alice who she was - she was always looking for absolution from that accident. I think Alice too was passive - that there were times when she did not act and I wished she would.

Alice is a different woman than I - I found her husband Charlie insufferable for the most part; maybe because I knew he was the stand-in for W. but maybe not. I believe it would be very hard for me to stand by and watch my husband make decisions that I didn't agree with or thought were flat out wrong.

Also, I found the book to be too long...there were parts of the 3rd and 4th section which I found that dragged. I think the book would have benefited from some additional editing.
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LibraryThing member DanaJean
I finally finished up American Wife and I'm really glad I hung in there. The first and last parts were the strongest in my opinion; the middle groundwork, although well written mechanically, could have been cut down which would have improved the flow. For me, anyway. American Wife is a fictional
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account of a first lady modeled after Laura Bush. And even though it's fictional, it did make me re-think my feelings about George and Laura--they are just people afterall.

There are times in all our lives when it serves us better to use discretion when it comes to speaking our true minds and hearts. And then there are times when by not speaking out, we lose ourselves. Alice, I believe, was a coward. But, I don't condemn her because slowly losing your identity and being controlled, I'm sure, makes one question their right to an opinion. I do believe Alice loves and adores the simpleton that is Charlie--in a very protective almost maternal way. And, I think Charlie loves Alice in the way he loves the Brewers and the tennis trophy--she is something to be won and owned. But, to him, this is what love is. She is an accessory for Charlie to try on and trot out as needed. No one expects much of her; look nice, parrot the party line or at the very least, just shut up and smile. Charlie's reason to be is tied up in his legacy, and as long as she makes him look good, that's what matters to him. He guilts her, ridicules her, and more often than not, she tows the line. Anything she tries to stand up for, she does in a cowardly way, making donations secretly, following through on things before he can tell her no. But when he finds out, and it serves his purpose, he's quite pleased. And if it doesn't, he sulks like a child. Someone pointed out that Alice is like a Stepford Wife, and I thought this was a spot on observation. She is an automaton, a Cherry 2000 if you will, that Charlie gives patronizing smiles and pats too when she doesn't follow the script. Then he sends his goons out to damage control because she's such a detriment when she escapes from the cage and is her own person.

I had a hard time suspending disbelief that they could maintain a marriage and ascend to the highest office in the land on their sexual compatibility alone, seeing as how they were polar opposites in regards to religion, politics and intellectual interests. I've seen plenty of marriages exist where people don't agree on the above topics all the time, but, all three 100% of the time? No way. Ninety-nine percent of all internet 'gang' wars revolve around religion and politics and simple debates oftentimes quickly disintegrate into stabs at intelligence.

I found the insights about fame and celebrity in the last chapter interesting and sad. How unsettling it must be wondering who really just wants to be a friend and who's out to get something from you. Trust issues for sure.

Finally, on the last page of the book, Alice thinks to herself as her motorcade is driving down the street, "All I did is marry him. You are the ones who gave him power."

Unfortunately, Alice doesn't realize that by marrying him, she gave up her power to him as well.

Interesting read. But I'm glad I'm done with it.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
Wow, Laura Bush had a lot of sex as a young woman.

Just kidding . . . kind of.
I would never have read this novel based very loosely on the life of Laura Bush if it hadn't been for a "book friend" of mine who loves Curtis Sittenfeld. Though the book has some flaws, I'm very glad I read it and it
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was a perfect summer read. In fact, I found this novel compulsively readable and flew through all 555 pages in a matter of days.

The book is told in four sections and each one contains one true life event of Laura Bush and the rest is fictionalized around it. The first section is her teenage years and a car accident where she kills a friend of hers in another car after running a stop sign. The second section is based around her time as a public school librarian. The third is her marriage to "Charlie Blackwell", aka George Bush and his alcoholism. The fourth is her time in the White House.

This book works really, really well when you just stop worrying about what is true and what isn't and think of it as a woman in her 60s looking back at her life - describing her mistakes, problems, luck, friendships, etc. In fact, for most of the book, I didn't think of this as being about Laura and George Bush at all. The first three sections were really excellent. The last section gets more political and there is lots of hand-wringing about whether or not she should publicly disagree with some of her husbands policies and some of her past comes back to haunt her. This section I found the least satisfying. I wondered if Sittenfeld just had a harder time imagining this section because there was too much info out there that already created a picture. I think the author had much more freedom in the earlier sections and that worked really well. One other mistake, I thought, was that she set the action in the early sections in Wisconsin instead of Texas. Being pretty familiar with Wisconsin, a lot of the action didn't seem to fit with the setting. Several times I found something jarring and thought, yeah, that's cause that sort of thing would make more sense in Texas.

Anyway, I really liked this and found it pretty fun to read. It came out in 2008 and is probably the kind of book that you either read when it came out or you'll never read, but if it's still lingering on your shelf, give it a try. I found it a pleasant surprise.
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LibraryThing member Claudia.Anderson
none of the characters in this book were likeable
LibraryThing member koratheexplora
I absolutely loved this book! Curtis is the most amazing author, so I knew anything by her would be great, but I was used to reading "Prep." Since "Prep" features a young character around my age I didn't know if I would be able to relate to Alice's older character. However, Sittenfeld goes through
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her whole life so you really get a since of who the character is and why she makes certain choices in her life later on. I typically read YA books more even though I am 19, so I can recomend them to my sister, and since I want to teach, however I was so glad to finally have a book to recomend to my adult friends!

American Wife really made me think about my beliefs, my future, and if I would change the way I felt once I got to that age. I could really relate to Alice because she was just a typical small town girl who didn't felt she fit in where she was. I had something tramatic happen when I was young, like her, that has kind of shaped my life, as it did hers. She loves books, was a teacher than a librarian, and is a Democrat. However lots of those things change when she falls in love with a rich, but caring Republican. It got me thinking about if I would be willing to give up, or change, things about me just for love. This book left me feeling enlightened and inspired (which I usually feel after reading a good book), but also left me feeling confused, but in a good way. Those feelings are feelings I have never felt together about the same book. I usually feel confused if I didn't understand the book, but this one left me more confused about myself. As a romantic, cheezy book junky (not trash paperbacks though, those kill me to read!) this book fufilled those cravings but also gave me something to think about.

The length of this book is a bit long, but this left me loving it more because I could savor it as apposed to it being over quickly. There weren't slow parts as you might imagine. Don't let the page numbers fool you into thinking it will be boring, Sittenfeld's novel with definately not disapoint! Go pick up your copy now!
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LibraryThing member TheLostEntwife
I feel like I should cut my review into half (along with the book) and do two separate reviews because I really got into the first half of this book and by the time the second half came around I really just.. wanted it to end.

Yes, let me just get this out of the way, this is a fictionalized tale of
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Laura Bush and George Bush, Jr’s life up through their presidency. It was a bit distracting, because I kept expecting her to move to Texas at some point, but it was set in a different state for a reason – but again, the state thing really threw me. Once I got into the story and started to really figure out who Alice Blackwell was my curiosity was piqued. Did these things really happen? And I consider that a good thing, because it inspires me to read more and learn more about the people sharing this earth with me.

However, once Alice and her husband, Charlie, were married and the marriage began to suffer, as do all marriages where there is high tension, then things began to slide downhill for me. I got a bit of the impression that I was being preached at – and in a fictional story like this one, that’s not something I enjoy (heck, it’s not something I enjoy in any sort of book). I got the feeling that the author was manipulating her character too much and it made me feel.. uncomfortable. Yes, I know it’s fictional – but still.. it’s a thin line when you base a character on a real person. I don’t know how else to say it, it just made me uncomfortable.

I am glad I finished the book. I am glad it no longer takes a spot on my TBR shelf. I’m a bit melancholy that I didn’t like it more – but I think I’ll stick to Sittenfelds other titles dealing with purely fictional characters in the future.
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LibraryThing member delphica
I liked this, but I'm very conflicted in my opinions of it.

I could not get past the fact that I was reading a loosely fictionalized account of a real person's life, a real living person, a situation that I find almost unbearable in its intrusiveness, regardless of how public a persona that
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individual is. "Wow, that's some nerve" is the mantra that kept running through my head.

On the other hand, I do understand why the episode from Laura Bush's life that becomes the theme that runs through this book (the car accident that results in the death of her classmate) is so compelling that an author wanted to explore how that would play out for a fictional(ized) character. And her writing is lovely, she's terrific at depicting sweetness and wistfulness and regret and reflection in a way that isn't sappy or cloying.

But seriously, if I were Laura Bush, and I ever met Curtis Sittenfeld, I would have a hard time not stabbing her in the eye with a pen.

I would have loved to have seen this concept with less obvious relationships between fictional and actual events.

Grade: B+/A-
Recommended: It's a GOOD book, but it's occupying a weird space for me.
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LibraryThing member ashkenazi
During the George W. Bush years, I knew quite a few smart, liberal women who were fascinated by Laura Bush. How could this apparently intelligent woman, a librarian and former teacher, be with this crude, loutish frat boy turned politician?

I didn’t share this fascination with Laura, or with the
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Bushes and their odd-couple marriage. Even one’s friends’ marriages are pretty inscrutable, let alone the marriages of prominent people one doesn’t actually know. My distaste for the 43rd president was political—I didn’t care about his personal life, one way or the other. But Curtis Sittenfeld’s previous books, "Prep" and "The Man of My Dreams," were both a lot better than a plot summary of either would suggest. So in spite of myself, I was curious, and willing to give "American Wife" a chance.

Still, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to sustain my interest in these characters for 500-plus pages. So I’m happy to say that Sittenfeld, once again, didn’t disappoint. Her first-person narrator, Alice Lindgren, is not just a stand-in for the former First Lady—you don’t have to keep Laura Bush’s Wikipedia entry open as a crib sheet while you read. No, Alice is a fully developed character, interesting in her own right even if (like me) you’ve never bothered to delve very deeply into Laura Bush’s back-story.

In the early chapters, we get to know Alice and her family, including her unconventional grandmother, whose room, “smelling of cigarette smoke and Shalimar,” seems to Alice to be “a passageway to adventure, the lobby of adulthood.” Then we come to the pivotal event of Alice’s youth—an auto accident in which, at 17, she is responsible for the death of a boy she has just begun to love. It’s not hard to see why JFK’s assassination, coming just a few months later, would give her “a grim relief”—something “so dreadful, it eclipsed the dreadfulness of what I had caused.”

By the time Alice meets Charlie Blackwell, we can see why she is ready to embrace the life of “larks and mischief” that he seems to offer her, with Charlie himself as Alice’s “own personal tour guide in the country of good fortune.” By now, we know Alice well enough to understand how she manages to maintain her attraction to Charlie even as she comes to see a less appealing side of his large, wealthy, ambitious, and often crude family. (In one vignette, Charlie’s mother—nicknamed Maj, for “Majesty”—casually tells him, “That haircut makes you look like a Jew.”)

But like most of us, Alice discovers that she is able to hold two opposite views at the same time. Her “jealous wonder” at the Blackwells' “clannish energy” coexists with a sense of gratitude for her own “calm and quiet” upbringing. “So many inside jokes for the Blackwells to keep track of,” Alice reflects, “so many nicknames …, so much one-upmanship: Surely I was not the only one who found it tiring.” And we agree, even as (like Alice) we also find it oddly compelling.

Alice’s mixed feelings come to the fore on her first visit to Halcyon, the Wisconsin retreat where the Blackwells engage in a “false secretive form of roughing it,” which Sittenfeld evokes deftly through Alice’s dry parenthetical observations: “(Oh, but how they loved their one toilet, how they loved their faded furniture and mossy, rickety dock, their chipped saucers and tarnished picture frames and hard mattresses….)” As the years go on, and Alice and Charlie settle into a life centered largely on Charlie’s political career, Sittenfeld nicely captures the feeling of “home” that a long marriage, even a deeply flawed one, can provide.

The final section, “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” closely parallels recent history (except for a few plot twists that have been set in motion much earlier). These later chapters have a perfunctory quality, but on the whole, I was happy to have Charlie’s road to the presidency encapsulated in a brief, efficient bit of exposition, beginning, “This is the part everyone already knows,” and concluding, “Some of those who were once his defenders have become his critics.”

By this point in the story, those critics include Alice—regardless of what the real Laura Bush may or may not have felt. And by this point, too, I’d had quite enough of Charlie Blackwell, even if Alice doesn't share that view. Likewise, I haven’t felt a shred of nostalgia for the Bush years, though reading "American Wife" did (mildly) pique my interest in learning a little more about Laura. But more than that, what stayed with me was the story of Alice Lindgren—a more reliable, and far more interesting, narrator than I’d been expecting.
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LibraryThing member bookgirljen
When I started this book, I had no idea that the premise was roughly based on the life of Laura Bush. Which was probably a good thing, because if I HAD known that, this liberal-leaning reader probably would not have picked this book up.

However, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I
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was hooked right from the beginning, and I was only 75 pages in when I started telling friends about this great book I was reading. The first half of the book was SO good, filled with twists and turns and little bits of foreshadowing.

The main character, Alice Lindgren, is a school librarian with a tragic past. We see her as a young teen before the tragedy occurs, when suddenly an accident happens and her world changes. Skip forward in time to a young adult on her own in the 70s, when she meets her husband, who seems wildly mismatched for Alice.

The story of their courtship and marriage moved quickly, and I was quite engrossed. More foreshadowing, more intimate descriptions of their privileged lives and not-so-perfect marriage. I couldn't stop reading.

But then, all of a sudden, we move forward nearly 20 years, and her husband has been governor and is now president. The story slowed down, became more introspective. I felt robbed. I wanted to know the details of how the couple ended up in the governor's mansion. I wanted to understand Alice's feelings about the road to the presidency. Ultimately, these elements were revealed, as flashbacks, but not as engagingly as the previous two-thirds of the novel.

When it finally dawned on me that this novel was a fictionalized account of George and Laura Bush, things finally started to make sense. But I felt jolted out of a fictionalized world, into an all-too-real world, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much I disliked the people this book is based upon.

If I could, I would give the first part of this novel 5 stars, and the last part closer to 3 stars.

I do recommend this novel. The author is extremely talented, with an extraordinary gift for prose. I look forward to her next novel.
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LibraryThing member dlgoldie
If you've ever wondered how someone like Laura Bush could end up with George W. Bush, Sittenfeld floats a pretty reasonable theory. Very enjoyable.
LibraryThing member LadyHax
For me, Curtis Sittenfeld is developing into one of the best contemporary American writers; American Wife cements this opinion. The life of fictional Alice Lingren drapes nicely on the real-life framework of Laura Bush's life, playing on the silences, controversies and contradictions of the latter
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to create an interesting and compelling portrait of what it might be like to be the wife of such a prominent politician (as a non-American, I view the awe surrounding the presidency with a similar bemusement to that expressed by Alice). Particularly interesting is the way Sittenfeld explores the (somewhat dubious) possibility of the president's wife being able to separate her personal self from her self as a political entity and citizen.
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LibraryThing member Springerluv
We were told by the book club member who recommended this book that it was "required reading to understand the history of this century" and that it is based on Barbara Bush's life. What a disappointment! Many of us put it down after a few pages, as it is clearly NOT based on Barbara Bush's life, is
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a total work of fiction, and is basically junk. Some dedicated members actually finished this pulp fiction work but I'm too busy to read books that are a waste of time.
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LibraryThing member carmelitasita29
I loved this not-so-subtle fictionalization of Laura Bush's life. This book is very sympathetic to the First Lady and her road to the White House, and shows the President in the light of someone who loves him even while she sees his flaws more clearly than anyone else. I found the first part of the
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book heart-wrenching. I recommend it to liberals and conservatives alike.
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