book review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sentence(s) worth writing down:
"It provided him with a way to structure his behavior, and a way to explain that behavior, both past and present, to himself. Perhaps fiction has, for me, served a similar purpose--what is a narrative arc if not the imposition of order on disparate events?--and perhaps it is my avid reading that has been my faith along." -Alice, on her husband's fundamentalist Christianity

My thoughts:
I've been wanting to read Curtis Sittenfeld for quite some time, and I'm so glad I finally did. As most are aware, American Wife is a fictionalization of Laura Bush's life. It's set in Wisconsin instead of Texas, which the Midwesterner in me loves even more. Several details are imagined and more are rearranged, but the crux of many characters is immensely recognizable. I admit, I don't know much about Laura Bush. I know she's a librarian, and I knew she was a Democrat until her wedding day, but I never even gave her much thought. Now I can't seem to stop thinking about the intricacies of her life.

I won't mince words; American Wife is brilliant. Sittenfeld deserves every literary accolade thrown at her, but if she doesn't win next year's National Book Award, I will be shocked and upset. Granted, I sadly don't read each book published in a year, but this book manages to make the reader think more deeply about life, love and politics. It takes away the ease of oversimplifying anything. It's filled with the perfectly cohesive, yet unexpected, joys and tragedy of life and good fiction.

It's hard to build suspense in a book the reader knows is somewhat based on a real event or person, yet because Sittenfeld manages to give depth to even the most simple-minded individuals, the why becomes more important than the what or how. She creates a depth of emotion and character even when there may not be intellectual depth.

American Wife is a book I'll buy more than one copy of because I want to reread it yearly, and I want to always have a spare copy to loan to friends. I'm begging all of you to read this book. As an interesting side note, I started this book before our recent presidential election, but I finished it in the days after. Surprisingly, I appreciated it even more after Obama's victory.

Rating: 6 stars out of 5 (it's so good, my chart doesn't even go up this high)/ridiculously recommended


  1. I enjoyed this book, but not as much as you did, and only first three sections, the final section felt more like a soapbox than a novel to me. You can see my review here if you’re interested.

  2. I am 30 pages from the end, and loving it. She's a brilliant writer. There were one or two things toward the end that felt a little forced, but overall this has been a wonderful read. I will post a review tonight or tomorrow.

  3. So, I can't decide if I hated or loved this one -- I can't separate politics/emotions, so I found the Bush-y implications very hard to ignore. But as a coming-of-age story, and the very complicated reasons we marry and stay married, this blew me away. It made me very uncomfortable, needless to say!


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