Synopsis (from Amazon)
In the year 2000, in the closest election in American history, Alice Blackwell’s husband becomes president of the United States. Their time in the White House proves to be heady, tumultuous, and controversial. But it is Alice’s own story – that of a kind, bookish, only child born in the 1940s Midwest who comes to inhabit a life of dizzying wealth and power – that is itself remarkable. Alice candidly describes her small-town upbringing, and the tragedy that shaped her identity; she recalls her early adulthood as a librarian, and her surprising courtship with the man who swept her off her feet; she tells of the crisis that almost ended their marriage; and she confides the privileges and difficulties of being first lady, a role that is uniquely cloistered and public, secretive and exposed.
I read a fair few positive reviews of this book around about a year ago and added it to my wishlist. It’s not the sort of book I would have bought, although I may have been a little interested if I picked it up in-store, but the reviews convinced me somewhat. (I can’t remember where I read the reviews now, but if it was on your blog, thank you). In the end I got it off Bookmooch (which is a great site by the way, I get lots of books that way).
When I logged the book on Goodreads I had a quick flick through the reviews and a few readers were saying that knowing that Alice was loosely based on Laura Bush made them view the book differently and less like fiction. Luckily I know next to nothing about Laura Bush so it didn’t really affect my reading of it. The only way it did affect my reading was that I wondered if some things were true. I wouldn’t recommenned researching Laura Bush before reading American Wife, however, if you know little about her as I do. In some ways I don’t think it was a good idea for Sittenfeld to pronounce the similarity between Laura Bush and Alice, at least at the beggining of the novel. I think if you already knew a lot about Laura Bush you would probably work it out, and knowing before reading the book could impact your reading of it. I considered not mentioning it here but as it is stated at the start of the book I don’t think it really matters where the knowledge comes from.
I did really enjoy this book. I got more engrossed in it than I expected too, and it sort of had more plot that I expected. I suppose I thought that a lot of it would be about being a President’s Wife, or at least a political wife, but for the most part Alice could have been almost any person from a middle-class background who married into money. It is more a book about class, about marriage, and just about life in general than it is about being a President’s Wife. That still does not make it sound so intriguing but I did find it a rather more emotional book than I had expected. Oh and there was more sex than I was expecting! I tried not to picture George Bush *shudder*. I don’t think I can really say more without giving away important plot points.
I do wonder if Laura Bush knows the contents of this book? I can imagine some things she may not be happy about.