Sunday, September 14, 2008

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (a review)

American Wife by Curtis SittenfeldWhen I requested American Wife, I had no idea it was a fictionalized account of Laura Bush’s life. All I knew was that it had been written by Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep, which I first read about in an article in The New York Times about the making of a bestseller. My curiosity was piqued, so when I heard about Sittenfeld’s latest book, I wanted to read it.

Leaving aside for a moment the Laura Bush connection, American Wife is an intimate portrait of Alice “Lindy” Blackwell (nee Lindgren), from her childhood in Riley, Wisconsin, in the 40s to her life in the White House as First Lady. Despite several rather dramatic turns of events over the course of her life, this is a quiet story about a quiet woman who is thrust into the public eye by her love for a man who is her polar opposite. The novel is a straightforward first-person narrative in the form of a memoir; the writing style is plain and easy to read. Alice Blackwell comes across as a very likeable and believable character. Although her story felt too intimate in parts—was it really necessary to describe in great detail how she clogged the toilet on her first visit to Charlie’s family?—overall this novel is an enjoyable read. Sittenfeld asks some provocative questions about personal responsibility: How much are we responsible for the actions of the people we love? What does it mean to love someone who is fundamentally different from us? Unfortunately, the last section of the book (once Alice becomes First Lady) is the least interesting. It felt as if Sittenfeld couldn’t quite figure out how her Alice could still be in this marriage, despite the fact that she had to be, since Laura Bush is. In the end, Sittenfeld failed to convince me: ultimately, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

This book is big and fairly controversial, so it’s been reviewed in lots of places. For some other blogger reviews, visit these sites:
Arch ThinkingBooks and CooksBoston BibliophileDevourer of BooksLiterary MenagerienomadreaderPop Culture JunkieRat’s CornerWearing Stilettos and Living on a FarmZoe’s Mom

Gayle also wrote a summary of a Q&A with Curtis Sittenfeld on her blog, Everyday I Write the Book Blog.

Finally, you can also read Joyce Carol Oates’ review in The New York Times.

Thank you to Random House for sending me this book to review.


  1. I've seen quite a few reviews of this book, but haven't read it yet. Thanks for the Joyce Carol Oates link. I hadn't seen her review.

  2. This sounds like a really good book. Its on my To Read list.

  3. You're welcome, Anna. As I mention in my review, I feel slightly lukewarm about this book (not sure it deserves the hype), but it's an interesting read nevertheless. And I'm definitely still interested in reading Prep.