Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Review - American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Title: American Wife: A Novel
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Year: 2008
Page: 576
Genre: Fiction

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Probably not
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? US
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
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.

First Sentence:
Have I made terrible mistakes?

Why did I pick this book?
Book Club April choice.

My thoughts:
  • I probably wouldn't have picked this if it wasn't for the book club. Would be interesting to know what the discussion is going to be like - my friend really liked it, it was meh for me. So I guess this will make a good book club discussion when there is a range of opinions!
  • It was way too long... there are books that have many pages, but you wish it'd never end. Then there are books then you think should be cut in half. It seems from the reviews I read that people thought the writing was great - I thought it was just okay, didn't stand out
  • I may have enjoyed the story a bit better if it wasn't (loosely?) based on Laura Bush because I kept commenting to my husband that the main character just doesn't seem like Laura Bush to me (the other characters didn't resemble any of the supposedly real life figures either... Charlie, supposedly George W, seemed more like Bill Clinton to me). Not that I know a lot about her or her husband or others, but it just doesn't match what I have in mind (and I don't mean anything political-related, I am rather apolitical. I just meant personalities.)
  • It was written in first person, but doesn't read like a memoir to me. Unlike Still Alice by Lisa Genova (fiction), I thought Still Alice was a lot more realistic. 
  • I don't quite understand the choice for the cover photo either - it doesn't really match the story
  • What would I be interested in knowing? Laura's reaction after (if) she read this book!


"You know what I realized today?" Charlie said. "Shaking hands with people at lunch, I thought, I'll never make another friend. Assuming I'm elected, I mean -- from here on out, it'll only be people wanting favors and access." (p483)


Have you read this book? 
If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
I'll link your review here if you wish!

100+ Reading


  1. I totally agree that differing opinions are wonderful for book club discussions :)

    I liked the cover and I hate it when covers are gorgeous and misleading!

  2. Great review. Looks like something I should pass on though.

  3. @Kals - I subscribed to a couple of book cover design blogs and it's interesting to read the thoughts behind them! Our discussion is coming up this week so I can't wait to hear what the others say.

    @Juju - my friend from the book club loves it though, so it may be just me!