Tuesday 2 October 2018

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, wife of George W. It isn't meant to be even remotely biographical. Alice Lindgren grows up in Wisconsin and never expected to be in the White House. A shy introvert, who loves her job as a librarian, she is passionate about getting young children interested in reading. She is involved in a serious car accident at age 17 and this defines parts of her, but it is when she meets Charlie Blackwell, the charismatic young man who everyone wants to be their new best friend, that the trajectory of who she is changes forever. 

All of the above is true of Laura Bush too (except she was born in Midland, Texas). Yet, Curtis Sittenfeld takes these interesting facts and imagines the heck out of them. She builds worlds of thoughts and dreams around each one, and a beautiful picture emerges of a wife, inevitably disappointed by life, but determined to forge a path that still works for her.

I'm not American, but a lot of what I read and watch originates there. This was different and refreshing - not because of some of the imagined (sexual) content that critics cannot condone in a President's wife - but because in our polarised, yes/no, black/white, in/out world, it is strangely beautiful to read many shades of grey. I loved understanding what it must have been like for a wife to hold different political views from a husband - even when he is the President, and the exploration of the many differences between these two individuals (extrovert/introvert, as well as their views on most things) and the working out of their relationship despite this.

A little lengthy - I found the beginning far easier to read than the end, which I rushed a bit.

4 stars.


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