American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

13 10 2008

Previously having enjoyed reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, I picked up a hardback copy of American Wife at Borders this weekend.  At 576 pages, this is a long book.  I finished it in less than 24 hours.  It has been a long time since a book has grabbed my attention like this one did. 

Prior to reading American Wife, I was aware that the book is loosely based on Laura Bush’s life.  I am moderately apolitical, so I do not usually read politically-based novels or biographies about politicians.  I read American Wife only because I had previously enjoyed Sittenfeld’s work. After finishing the book, I am curious to learn more about the real First Lady’s life and likely will pick up one of her biographies.

The protagonist in American Wife is Alice Blackwell.  When she meets Charlie Blackwell (obviously modeled after George W. Bush) she is over 30.  They get engaged within six weeks of meeting each other and are married in another six weeks.  She quits her job as a school librarian and becomes a housewife.  For many years, Charlie works for the family’s meat company, but never does a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.  He then becomes managing partner of the Wisconsin Brewer’s baseball team.  When his alcoholism becomes too much, Alice takes her daughter and leaves Charlie.  He meets a born-again Christian minister and stops drinking.  He and Alice reconcile.  Charlie becomes the governor of Wisconsin (like his father) and then the President of the United States.  A lot of this sounds very familiar.

I would love to know how much of this book was taken from Laura Bush’s life.  Specifically:

  • In a family portrait taken at his brother’s wedding, Charlie Blackwell has his penis and testicles hanging out of the opening of his tuxedo pants.  Did George W Bush do something similar or was this just a way to illustrate the type of relationship Charlie had with his brothers and the behavior they exhibited when they were together?
  • Was their courtship truly so short?
  • Alice Blackwell’s grandmother carries on a lesbian relationship.  Her grandmother’s lover is an ob-gyn who later gives Alice an illegal abortion. 
  • Alice Blackwell is a Democrat, who is married to a Republican President.  They agree to disagree.
  • Alice Blackwell is involved in a car accident when she is in high school.  On her way to a party, she doesn’t see a stop sign and hits another car, killing the boy she has a crush on. 

Laura Bush is a private person.  Obviously Sittenfeld used a lot of poetic license when writing this book.  I googled “Laura Bush abortion” and didn’t find anything about Laura Bush being suspected of having an abortion, only some stories about her being questioned about her beliefs on abortion during interviews.  Did Sittenfeld talk to someone who suggested that Laura Bush may have had an abortion or was this just a way to make Alice Blackwell more interesting as the wife of the Republican President? 

If you have read American Wife, I am very interested in knowing the opinions of fellow readers.  Please comment.  If you have not read American Wife, I am sorry for all of the spoilers in this post.  Pick it up anyway. 

I have not read The Man of My Dreams, Sittenfeld’s other book.  I will pick it up at the library during my next visit. 

Here’s to finding myself lost in another book soon!

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21 10 2008
W « Adventures and Musings

[…] this post by saying that I am usually an apolitical American.  Reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife piqued my interest in George and Laura Bush.  I thought that I would pick up a biography (perhaps […]

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