(Recommended by Kaitlin Sidorsky, Class of 2011)
As an avid reader and a lover of politics, Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book American Wife appealed to two different sides of my nature. Although a work of fiction, it lends a very humane quality to not only the life of the President, but his family members who are equally as involved in his administration.
American Wife tells the story of Alice Blackwell, current first Lady of the United States, a woman who is eerily similar to the current First Lady Laura Bush. Alice Blackwell’s Husband, Charlie, and Charlie’s parents are also based off of the Bush family with added twists to each character to make them unique. What made this such an enjoyable read was not only the immersion into Alice Blackwell’s psyche but the humane quality it gave to the people involved in an administration. It is often that people forget that those who are making decisions, or who are closely involved with those who make the decisions, are real people. They have feelings, unique life experiences, and perhaps even differing opinions. It shows that a First Lady or first child is not the same as the President himself or his views. Each family member has their own history and what the public perceives them as is not always who they truly are.
Curtis Sittenfeld brings up extremely important questions about family, politics, destiny, the choices we make and the ultimate paths our lives take. She allows us to not only become Alice Blackwell but to recognize ourselves in her in some way. The fact that the reader can understand the thoughts, feelings and experiences of Alice Blackwell is only made more interesting and amazing because she becomes the First Lady of the United States. What made this possible is that for the majority of the book we learn of Alice Blackwell’s life journey, how she became the person she is today.
Alice Blackwell’s life’s choices are extremely important in this novel and her constant questioning of them is central to the plot. In one of the most revealing parts of the book, Alice recounts an embarrassing moment when she walks in through a door of a bathroom in a country club and thinking the other one is for the toilets, finds that it is just another entrance/exit. Instead of using the other door for the toilets, she walks out as if meaning to do that all along so that she doesn’t have to embarrass herself. Later on in the book she looks back on this small episode in her life and relates it to her husband’s presidency by saying:
“I feel a growing suspicion that Charlie continues to fight this war for much the same reason I couldn’t bring myself to reenter the ladies room at the Maronne Country Club, and he even has my compassion, except for this- that night at the club, when I needed to urinate and hadn’t, the only one who suffered for my foolishness was me.”
This was an excellent book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys not only learning about the life of someone else but learning a little bit about themselves along the way.