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

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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.

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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: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (423 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau 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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17 of 19 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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100 of 126 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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52 of 69 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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