American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

american wife

Alice Blackwell is America’s First Lady, wife of the US President. But first, she was Alice Lindgren, a normal American girl. She grew up in the suburbs, with her parents, an only child, and her grandmother, an outspoken woman who loved to read. She experienced tragedy early, and went on to become a librarian at a school, reading and working with children. When she meets Charles Blackwell, she’s not at all sure that she’s ready and willing to get involved.

Loosely based on Laura Bush, this book is a study of society, marriage, politics and family. But most of all, it’s the story of a woman, of her life and feelings, and what matters to her. It tells her story from her youth, through adolescence and into womanhood, and of course, the story of her marriage, of it’s heights and it’s darkness.

I found Alice to be really interesting because she’s clearly intelligent and observant, but also, like women of her generation, she’s not always assertive and confident. Of course, sometimes that’s annoying, when her husband is being a jerk and you want her to do something about it, but it also feels very real and very reasonable. She’s human, a vulnerable, intelligent and likable character. And although this is a book about a politician’s wife, it’s not really about politics, exactly. It’s not about political affiliation, anyway, it’s about a woman and her role as a wife. She’s aware of her husbands wealth, and how that shelters her, and she feels that they should do more, and I love the descriptions of his family, they’re so spot on.

But it’s her own family that I really loved. Her grandmother gives her her love of reading and her desire to be independant, whilst her mother is a support, a kind figure, her father more traditional and paternal. They’re all warm, well realised people, struggling with the confusions of life as best they can.

I also really liked how the marriage was described. Alice and her husband love each other, but it’s not always easy. She is given a whole life before him, and a well rounded character before he’s brought into the picture. When he does, he’s warm, charming, and kind to her. The different phases of their relationship are so beautifully written about. Their courtship, their marriage, the early years, the hard times, the fights, the birth of their child, growing older. They tease each other, and he is mostly a good husband, but he’s also a very arrogant man, and the tensions that creates are interesting. It just feels like a real relationship, there is drama, but not added melodrama. I liked that.

This book is full of observation about privilege, class, race, education, and family. There is so much here. But what I like about it is that it’s a woman talking about her life, about what the focus and heart of her life has been. At heart, she’s just an American Wife.

Read It If: it’s not really hugely about politics, though that is there, but it will please readers who like stories about interesting women the most, I think.

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