Sunday, January 03, 2010
"It’s the sort of novel Laura Bush might curl up with in the White House solarium if it were not about Laura Bush."
How does someone who seems like a nice, down-to-earth, NORMAL woman like Laura Bush wind up married to George Bush, and as First Lady of the United States?
I didn’t know what to expect from Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel American Wife; I actively disliked her other books. But from the first page of this one, I was drawn in and kept engrossed. I know it’s a novel but I still felt that American Wife slowly revealed to me in perfect, sense-making clarity who Alice Blackwell, and by extension, Laura Bush, was. I mean, there has to be something more there, than just some robotic, plasticine Stepford FLOTUS. I can sense it, and I don't think I am the only one.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I was not, am not, and never will be a George Bush fan. I mean, look at the man - he's a buffoon. He's a child. But I like Laura Bush. I probably disagree with much of her politics, but I think she seems like a nice person. Maybe too nice a person to hang out with me, even. And I don't know how someone like her, someone with a quiet sense of class and decency, winds up with someone like him.
In addition, the fact of the matter is that I want the President of the United States to be smarter than me – and I’d be shocked to find out that George Bush is. But it would not especially surprise me to find out that Laura is at least as smart as me.
And of course, the fact that she’s a librarian immediately conjures kindred-spirit leanings.
The book reveals a quiet, moral, intense, and very private woman to the world. One with whom I found myself sympathizing. One whom I admired and liked and wanted to defend. But I think the most amazing revelation in the book wasn’t how I came to feel about Alice/Laura, but how through explorations of and meditations on Alice’s thoughts and ambitions and opinions, I came to understand Charlie Blackwell/George Bush a little better. This honest take on Charlie Blackwell’s political clumsiness, a quote almost at the very end of the book, explains perfectly just about everything I don’t get about George Bush and his presidency:
“Being president is for him like taking a ninth-grade English test on The Odyssey, and he’s the kid who did most of the reading, he studied for an hour the night before, but he’s not one of the people who loved the book. Besides, he’d always rather crack a funny joke in class than offer a genuine insight.”
(American Wife, p. 525)
Sittenfeld has written a stellar novel, one which I didn’t want to put down, and one which cast some light on the perplexing leading players of current events. If she doesn’t exactly solve the puzzle, she gives us a few useful clues about how to perhaps approach the solution, making me eager to both see what she comes up with next and to enthusiastically recommend this book.
And if I haven’t convinced you, maybe Maureen Dowd can.
I know I'm not getting this right - this book was eye-opening. It was riveting and I can't believe how much I liked it. And how much I liked Alice/Laura, despite her ridiculous husband.