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American Wife: A Novel Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064759
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064755
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (366 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #407,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sittenfeld tracks, in her uneven third novel, the life of bookish, naïve Alice Lindgren and the trajectory that lands her in the White House as first lady. Charlie Blackwell, her boyishly charming rake of a husband, whose background of Ivy League privilege, penchant for booze and partying, contempt for the news and habit of making flubs when speaking off the cuff, bears more than a passing resemblance to the current president (though the Blackwells hail from Wisconsin, not Texas). Sittenfeld shines early in her portrayal of Alice's coming-of-age in Riley, Wis., living with her parents and her mildly eccentric grandmother. A car accident in her teens results in the death of her first crush, which haunts Alice even as she later falls for Charlie and becomes overwhelmed by his family's private summer compound and exclusive country club membership. Once the author leaves the realm of pure fiction, however, and has the first couple deal with his being ostracized as a president who favors an increasingly unpopular war, the book quickly loses its panache and sputters to a weak conclusion that doesn't live up to the fine storytelling that precedes it. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In her third novel, Sittenfeld offers a thinly veiled account (Wisconsin, not Texas) of the life of Laura Bush, in the story of Alice Lindgren, who marries Charlie Blackwell, the ne'er-do-well son of a political dynasty who becomes President. The early chapters, in which Sittenfeld depicts an innocent childhood and adolescence disrupted by tragedy, are the most compelling. As the book progresses to more recent and familiar events, she has difficulty enlivening the ins and outs of electioneering and policymaking. The object of Sittenfeld's fascination is the seeming incongruity between Alice's liberal sympathies and her bookish intellect and Charlie's conservative nature and general insouciance. Neither character is very likable—Alice weak-willed and martyrlike, Charlie unbearably self-centered—but the novel, Sittenfeld's most fully realized yet, artfully evokes the painful reverberations of the past.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

More About the Author

Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of American Wife, The Man of My Dreams and Prep. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times,The Atlantic Monthly, Salon, Allure, Glamour, and on public radio's This American Life. Her books have been translated into twenty-five languages. Visit her website at www.curtissittenfeld.com.

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Customer Reviews

The book was way over long and boring.
Elva H. Thompson
In Sittenfeld's third book, she ambitiously creates a fictionalized portrait of Laura Bush.
katherine
When I finished reading this book, however, I was lukewarm about the ending.
B. Lee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

120 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Fermata on October 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I ordered this book, I didn't know that it was supposed to be based (loosely or otherwise) on Laura Bush. I ordered it because I am fascinated by what it would be like to be behind the doors of the real White House. (If you want a non-fiction view, I recommend:

America's First Families: An Inside View of 200 Years of Private Life in the White House (Lisa Drew Books)

I did find out that the book was loosely (?) based on Laura Bush's life prior to reading it. It is through that lens that I wound up forming my opinion on the book.

As a work of hypothetical fiction, the book was interesting and entertaining. You meet a lot of characters in the book -- particularly the early life of Alice -- that you wouldn't expect to meet in a midwest middle class traditional family and you catch a glimpse of that period that is outside the Kennedy "Camelot" rose-colored glasses. From that perspective, as a novel, it stretches your imagination and makes for a book that is "out of the ordinary".

However, knowing that it is based in part on the life of Laura Bush -- I think this really does a disservice to the book and to the woman. I don't have strong feelings about Laura Bush either way but by making this a work of fiction, you constantly find yourself wondering which parts were true and which ones were not. If everything was true, then you get a very unkind picture of the person who is Laura Bush. If much of it is untrue, then you feel sorry for Laura Bush for being "slandered" and the voyeurism into what should be very private events, feelings and thoughts for this very public person. You feel a little guilty even reading it.
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96 of 120 people found the following review helpful By B. Lee on September 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Great summaries in the other reviews - I won't repeat those.

I loved the beginning and middle of this book. Loved Alice, her childhood, her growing up experiences, her family, her life as a single woman, her courtships, her experiences with the Blackwell family (these were my favorite sections), and her relationship with her husband, the future president. All of these things are plot lines that Sittenfeld wrote BRILLIANTLY.

When I finished reading this book, however, I was lukewarm about the ending. 2 weeks later, when I was still thinking about the book, I realized how fervently it had stuck with me, and have since decided that it was one of my favorites of 2008 so far.

Great work, Curtis. I praise your boldness and your talent for writing about women in a sometimes awkward and uncomfortable but always honest fashion. Definitely worth the read.
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Format: Hardcover
Let's get this out of the way up front: If AMERICAN WIFE were nothing more than a barely disguised attempt to imagine and illuminate the inner life of Laura Bush, it might be entertaining in a titillating sort of way, but hardly worth more attention than a quickly forgotten magazine profile. In truth, Curtis Sittenfeld's third novel is a rich and arresting portrait of an enduring marriage, of the inevitable compromises necessary to reach that longevity, and of the unremitting demands of public life and the price of fame.

Sittenfeld's protagonist, Alice Lindgren, is born in a small Wisconsin town in 1946, the only child of a bank manager and a housewife. Her early years are unremarkable until a September night in 1963 when the car she's driving on the way to a party collides with one driven by Andrew Imhof, a classmate with whom she's moving toward a relationship. Andrew is killed, and the specter of his loss shadows Alice's waking (and dreaming) life.

Alice falls into a relationship with Andrew's older brother, Pete, and when she becomes pregnant, her grandmother takes her to Chicago for an abortion --- a decision that plays a central role in the novel's denouement.

Sittenfeld fast forwards to Madison, Wisconsin in 1977, where Alice contentedly works as an elementary school librarian and dreams about buying a house. During a summer when she's spending most of her time creating papier-mâchécharacters to decorate the library, she meets Charlie Blackwell, "someone who found his own flaws endearing and thus concealed nothing," at a backyard barbecue. Charlie is the youngest of four sons of Harold and Priscilla (nicknamed "Maj," short for "Majesty") Blackwell.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
I wish I had not known beforehand (and Sittenfeld's Acknowledgments at the end make it clear) that this book was inspired by biographies of Laura Bush. I knew relatively little about Laura Bush and googled an outline of her life. I found that in her teens she had accidentally killed a boy friend in a car crash, and when this episode appears early in this novel, it reinforced (and was obviously meant to reinforce) the parallel between Alice Lindgren and Laura Bush, even if a note at the beginning says that while Alice's husband and his parents are `recognizable', `all other characters [i.e. including Alice herself] in the novel are products of the author's imagination, as are the incidents concerning them'.

But, in view of the car accident which really did happen, it is hard not to ask oneself exactly what is invented and what is not. For example: did Laura Bush have a wise and lesbian grandmother? Did she have an abortion at the age of 17? Did her marriage nearly break up at one point? And there are some extensively described sexual scenes with three different men, which is not unusual these days in an ordinary novel; but if one associates them with Laura Bush (and can one help that?), they strike a voyeuristic note and are to my mind an impertinence.

The novel occasionally has unnecessarily detailed descriptions of clothes and of furniture, and there are quite a lot of episodes that are not in themselves particularly interesting or contribute to the story line. But the main characters are well developed and the main story line is compelling - so much so that the reservations I have expressed in the previous paragraph gradually faded, and I was truly absorbed to the very end of this very long book.
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