Tuesday, March 6, 2012

American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife has been out for awhile, but I avoided it for two reasons. Her first novel Prep had been hyped to the skies, and when I got round to reading it, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. I thought it was workmanlike, but certainly not exceptional. The other reason I avoided American Wife is that it's a fantasia on who former First Lady Laura Bush might be. I was so glad to have that administration gone, I had no desire to revisit it.
But two weeks ago I broke down and read American Wife and it's very good. Sittenfeld moves the main action from Texas to Wisconsin; the political family is big in meat processing, not oil. She deftly handles her characters, so that it sees imminently plausible that Alice (an only child from a small town, who becomes a children's librarian) is not only attracted to Charlie, but falls in loved with him. After they marry, they struggle with Charlie's alcoholism and his being born again, as he ascends the political ladder.
What distressed me about the book was the last section, set in Washington. I almost wished that Sittenfeld had ended it at the Presidential election. The novel, out of necesity, descends into a Joe Klein's Primary Colors type of scenario, and I found myself going, "If that's Cheney, is the other guy Rumsfeld?" trains of thought. It was distracting. Still, Sittenfeld tells a wonderful story.

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