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American Wife: A Novel Hardcover – September 2, 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 458 customer reviews

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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.

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.
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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: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (458 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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: 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The parallels of Laura Bush and Alice are too close to make the reading enjoyable or even interesting.
I wondered if Curtis was trying to sympathize or vilify Laura. Couldn't decide.
Too long with lots of duplicates on Charlie/George drinking and other stuff. And other than meat vs oil, and Wisconsin vs Texas.... Everything else lined up. Writing is ok, only a couple of typos but really what was the point?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My actual review is somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. Sometimes I really liked this book and I really liked the main character, Alice. Other times, mostly toward the end, I wanted to yell "We got it! Fame is hard!" I added this book after reading that Alice was inspired by Laura Bush. Obviously I'm not the first person to look at this quiet, thoughtful, former librarian wind up with George W. Bush of all people. American Wife closely mirrors the events of the former first lady's life from childhood until her husband's second term in office. Most of her decisions in adulthood, revolve around a tragic accident during her teen years, in which a boy she was enamored with was killed.

I have to say I often found this book uncomfortable to read. Mainly because I found myself relating to the character of Alice quite a lot. So even when she was making decisions that I wouldn't necessarily have made, I understood them. Needless to say this was rather jarring for a dyed-in-the-wool liberal to find herself relating to a character's decision to marry the literary incarnation of GWB. Toward the end of book, which details their years in the White House, I found Alice's ruminations on fame to be a little tedious. I only need to be told so many times how few people you can really trust and how people think they own you because you are famous. I got it. Otherwise, I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who's willing to accept that people with other political views are just people and not the actual devil.
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