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American Wife: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – February 10, 2009


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Product Details

  • Series: Random House Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Later Printing edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812975405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812975406
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (381 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,942 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.

Customer Reviews

To make matters worse, the book is much too long and boring.
Word Girl
Thought this book was about 100 pages to long, which made it a boring read.
Barb
If Laura Bush is anything like Alice Blackwell, then bully for her!
John H. Gruver

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

124 of 143 people found the following review helpful By Mahlers2nd TOP 500 REVIEWER 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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97 of 121 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By N. Adams on June 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book started out so, so good, but then just degenerated into a bunch of diatribes that felt false, fake and set-up. Ostensibly based on the life of Laura Bush (although in a historical fiction kind of way), I found myself really enjoying the main character - be it the good, bad or whatever. She felt REAL. But then it just fell apart for me. It felt like the author set out to put in anything and everything that could have maybe happened (or had been "reported" to have happened) instead of remaining true to Laura/Alice. Sittenfeld spent the mid part of the book dealing with George's alcohol issue, but mostly in a tabloid kind of way. This is the way the rest of the book went. There was a paragraph that chronicled his rise from Governor to President. A paragraph. And while I realize this was about Laura, surely there could have been a better way to do this. It's a long book. There should have been a better transition, or time spent elsewhere that would have kept this reader's interest instead of dealing with the minutiae into details that, from all accounts, were not a big deal.

The ending was weak and didn't seem in character at all. Again, enjoyed the character development from the beginning, but it just felt like a chore about mid-way through. Not recommended.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Nelson H. Wu on October 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The problem with "American Wife," the lauded, pseudo-biography of first lady Laura Bush, is that if you take away the novel's gimmick, you're left with a dated and slightly irrelevant tale of an emotionally frustrated housewife's "life in opposition to itself." The story's been told numerous times, most often about fifty years ago and most eloquently (and without the explicit sex scenes) by short story writer Richard Yates and in Evan S. Connell's quietly devastating "Mrs. Bridge." To be sure, Curtis Sittenfeld nails the period details in "American Wife" as she traces the formative years of the Laura Bush stand-in, Alice Lindgren, growing up in Wisconsin in the 1950s and `60s. And she hits the bull's-eye with the character-caricature of Charlie Blackwell, the George W. Bush-inspired man whose "ambitions exceed his talent." But, like Alice's life and her dreams, the novel loses momentum and hits a dead end in the middle passages that trace Charlie's rise to power and Alice's reluctant acceptance of her life as a political sidekick.
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50 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Ashley Megan VINE VOICE on October 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's nearly impossible to separate your feelings about "American Wife" and the character of Alice Blackwell from your feelings about the book's inspiration, Laura Bush. Although the book is probably at least 80% fiction, the parallels are impossible to ignore, and they naturally color every aspect of the reading experience. Every reader is going to bring in preconceptions - admiration, frustration, anger, pity, or just plain confusion - and expect this book to either confirm or explain what they think they know about our current first lady.

But while recognizing my own bias, I tried - I really tried - to be as objective as possible. In some places - particularly the first two parts of the book - it was easier than others. At other times, keeping an open mind became an almost exhaustive task. Nevertheless, it's one I'm glad to have undertaken. "American Wife" succeeds on both levels: as a standalone book about one woman's rather interesting life, and as a speculative character study about a women most of us will probably never truly understand.

Alice Blackwell is a study in contradictions. She's an intelligent women who goes out of her way to make sure she never has to think for herself. She's almost aggressively passive, a woman who seems to want to make as little impression on the world as possible, and yet one of her first acts as an independent adult is to take another human being's life in a car accident. She's a Democrat who marries into a staunchly political Republican family. You like her, but at the same time you veer between pitying her and wanting to smack her back to her senses. As such, she makes for a fascinating, but ultimately frustrating, main character.
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