American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is a big slab of a novel, 550 plus words, large pages, divided into 4 sections. I enjoyed Sittenfeld’s debut novel Prep very much but was disappointed by The Man of My Dreams, so I wasn’t sure how I’d get on with this. Apart from tsking about having to carry such a hefty novel in my bag, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The American Wife refers to Alice, who by marrying Charlie Blackwell ends up being America’s First Lady. The book is based on the real life Laura Bush. True facts about Laura Bush’s life (such as a fatal car accident she was involved in) are taken and fictionalised. I am impressed that despite us knowing how it’s going to end there is still enough moderate cliff hanging to keep us reading on.

I thought Sittenfeld was immensely skilled at bringing to life teen anxieties and school concerns in Prep, and here again she paints a rounded portrait of young Alice. It is the earlier parts of Alice’s life which I enjoyed the most, the fact that she winds up marrying the president was almost incidental.

As the First Lady Alice rates far higher in the popularity stakes than her husband does. She is also perceived to have great influence on him, and a variety of people wish her to use that power. Sittenfeld ponders what it would be like for the President’s wife to not share his values, and this, along with Alice’s guilt about the car crash, seems to be the central theme.

It’s not a particularly challenging or flashy novel, rather it is something to relax into and enjoy. There were times when, with my writers hat on, I thought, but surely this is telling and not showing, but it didn’t seem to matter a jot. I guess it’s just another of those “rules” I’ll never quite get.

I’ll be rating it 4 out of 5 on my Good Reads page.

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